Recently, I came across a film by Rüdiger Sünner titled “Mysticism and Resistance” (Mystik und Widerstand). It covers the German mystic Dorothee Sölle’s life and her search for God (1929-2003). To partially summarize her inner search, she concluded: “The religion of the third millennium will be either mystical, or it will die.”
What is understood by Mysticism?
The word mysticism comes from the Greek, and it means “secret doctrine”. It refers to a path, an experience, a realization that concerns “the mysteries”. So it is a religious tendency that seeks to bring man to personal union with God through devotion and contemplation. The Middle Ages are especially known by a mystical search for God. Mysticism has always been presented as a personal experience of God, or as a search for a consciousness of the immediate presence of God. It is often spiritual experiences that considering them objectively, don’t seem to be easily accessible. Representatives in the Christian domain were, for example, Angelus Silesius (1624-1677) and Meister Eckhart (1260-1328). Mystics in the Islamic world are the Sufis. Across religions, the mystics speak of a divine spark that can be kindled in the person.
Dorothee Sölle’s Way
Dorothee Sölle studied Protestant theology, philosophy and literature. In her dissertation at the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Cologne, she explored the relationship between theology and poetry. For several years from 1971 on, she taught new German literary history. She was not granted a German professorship in theology because of her unconventional views on questions of faith. So it happened that she taught at Union Theological Seminary in New York from 1975-1987 instead.
Dorothee Sölle’s poetic work was written between 1969 – 2000. She tried to find a new language to speak to God. She was particularly interested in the poor, persecuted, and those suffering from war. She commited to participate in peace demonstrations.
In her writings, she argues that mysticism must not be an ivory-tower inwardness, but it can culminate in an active life. In regards to her mystical orientation in life, she coined the term theo-poetry. It is the talking and speaking to God in images and it represents a singer of the intangible, which may never be understood rationally. But according to her words, it is an expression of life that also pervades us on every starry night, in every love relationship and in every piece of music by Johann Sebastian Bach.
It was the mystical element that touched her and did not let go of her throughout her life, the feeling of unity with all that lives, the imersion, the end of the ego and the discovery of the true self. According to her, mystical sensitivity knows theistic, atheistic and pantheistic forms. A key experience is that the seclusion of our current self is broken through.
She states: “We are capable of transcendence.” Her mystical-ecological consciousness sees itself as being involved in everything that exists. Everything that lives can only live and survive in the coexistence of the relationship. This type of coexistence also connects with the past, the present and the future.
As a matter of fact, she explains: “My happiness has always started with selflessness.”
The book of poetry by Dorothee Sölle titled “Verrückt nach Licht” (Crazy for Light) contains both theo-poetry and modern poetry. In the twentieth century, she promotes mysticism. The mysticism that enables man to enter into and live with the divine power.
Ulrike Voigt writes in her book “Mystikerinnen” (Mystic Women) about Dorothee Sölle:
For Dorothee Sölle the love of God always comes with philantropy, both are at the center of mystical life. Therefore mysticism always includes suffering, a co-suffering with the suffering of other people.
And she quotes Dorothee Sölle as follows:
“Postmodern polytheism is destructive because it makes single life-powers – such as work, sexuality, the nation, money, science – false gods to which we sacrifice our lives and other people’s lives. By serving these idols, exclusively and blindly, we are violating life, that belongs to God.
I have been attracted to mysticism by the dream of finding another form of spirituality in the here and now. Less dogmatic, less mental is what I am looking for. It should be based on experience in the double sense of the word, meaning both the genesis and the life consequences of this love of God. So I sought the mystical elements of faith in the Bible and other holy scriptures.
Mystic experience is happiness – and at the same time it makes you homeless. It leads people from the house where they have settled into the homelessness, as happened to the young Gautama, the later Buddha.
The distance from everyday reality does not necessarily justify the great word “resistance”, but it does point to another life. Happiness and homelessness, fulfillment and search, closeness to God and the bitterness of his absence in the everyday life of the violence-dominated reality belong together. “
Dorothee Sölle writes: “Love, never comes to its end. Whatever one may say about love, it is not finished with and in a human being. It transcends every possible fulfillment, it always wants more. The language of tradition calls this never coming to an end: transcendence. But the historical real name of the very same thing is: suffering because the love of Christ is infinite, because it does not set conditions that would be finished when fulfilled; suffering because love does not count on its limitations. Every relationship with a person makes us vulnerable, the greater the love, the more vulnerable.
Whoever is self-sufficient, does not need anybody, is autonomus, will also experience less pain. But Christ, who calls in love, has never recommended to avoid pain, to save oneself, as the Stoics counseled. The following of Christ sensitizes people, makes them attentive, thoughtful, sensitive and vulnerable.
He who has experienced the unconditional goodness of God, who understands God’s closeness as love, breathes, feels that he cannot hold it for himself. “
Rüdiger Sünner’s Film “Mystik und Widerstand – Zur Erinnerung an Dorothee Sölle” (Mysticism and Resistance – In Memory of Dorothee Sölle), 2013
Ulrike Voigt, “Mystikerinnen – Die Kraft spiritueller Frauen” (Mystics – The power of spiritual women), 2017