How May Christian Mysticism Understand the Wilderness Experience?

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Anyone who reads the Christian Mysticism spiritual classics – Paradise Lost or Piers the Plowman or Pilgrim’s Progress as well as contemporary religious literature, including for example such books as The Shack by William P Young, or Joni-An Unforgettable Story by Joni Eareckson Tadawill discover that for any traveller on the spiritual path there is such a thing as ‘the wilderness experience’. What exactly is this experience? And why should it happen anyway to those who are faithful to God and try to live their lives in harmony with His will?

Looking at this from another spiritual angle, it has been said that as soon as someone reaches a spiritual high they become of interest to ‘the Evil One.’ Read C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. There, in the timeless dominion of hell, Satan’s senior assistant Screwtape is most interested in targeting those who are in danger of slipping from his grip, who are at risk of belonging to Satan’s Enemy, ‘Him’, forever. ‘He has given Himself every natural advantage,’ grumbles Screwtape. ‘And He’ll take anyone, on any terms!’ ‘He’ must be thwarted at every move – and so Screwtape instructs his junior demons to try every means to win ‘the Subject’ back again for damnation.

When we set off on our lives’ journeys we must cross many terrains; and the point of arrival at the destination can never be exactly where we were when we first acknowledged the reality of God in our lives. Huge industries have grown up around healing and wholeness, from both Christian and other spiritual traditions. Whatever brand you choose, you cannot ever fully avoid the wilderness experience, in whatever form it takes. It must be lived through. It can take the form of depression; a crisis of faith; one or more traumatic life events; the list of possibilities is very long. Some might choose to renounce the outside world, perhaps even to abandon their regular life in a literal sense; others might retreat into a cave spiritually, emotionally and psychologically, cutting themselves off from all normal social interaction and engagement in daily life.

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