I am working my way through a wonderful and dense little gift in the form of The Mystic Road of Love, a book by Notre Dame professor John S. Donne. I will reserve much in the way of comment until I finish, but there is already a lot in the way of food for thought.
Paul Tillich, who I read often enough, is a dense writer and far different than Donne. One of the more accessible things Tillich said was “Language… has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.” Donne takes up this mantle, but in a way where the expression is more honest, though the line between loneliness and solitude is more blurred. By this I mean Tillich was no mystic and felt little good could come of loneliness even if great good could come of being alone. Donne sees goodness in being alone in and of itself especially as one is never properly alone, but always in companionship with God that may at times also bring others into one’s presence as they travel the mystic road of love.
Donne’s book brings us very quickly to Tolkien. I am far from an expert on Tolkien, but it is not difficult to see in his mythology the road traveled involves being alone in the exercise of the freedom to do what is right as well as the companionship that brings one to purest love. (On this matter I will point you to an interview with Tolkien blogger Anne Marie Gazzolo.) If Donne has motivated me in doing any further reading, it will be to retake up Tolkien, reading it in the form of spiritual journey.
When anyone writes and has a premise that is bolstered by the thought of others, two things happen. They write from their tradition or perspective and possess an expertise in those matters readers cannot always have. As a Catholic, this is the case with Donne taking up Tolkien. The other thing that happens is you look outside of your perspective and tradition. Donne does this in referencing Islamic and Buddhist thought. He also takes up an alternate Christian expression found in Protestant thought.
Historically Protestantism has little use for mysticism and less use for the redemptive suffering that often accompanies the mystic or being alone. For the Protestant, a chasm has been driven between the spiritual and earthly world that is often unhealthy, but also makes a Protestant’s spiritual journey fascinating. From the perspective of salvation, there is nothing to be gained from it. Though mysticism is not absent in Protestantism, it is downplayed. As for suffering the Protestant usually sees it as something to be addressed from the perspective of alleviating the matter rather than finding spiritual growth in it.
Upon reading the name Dag Hammarskjold, I turn to Donne’s index to see if his road of love will find other Protestant thinkers. There is no Luther or Calvin. There is not even a Kierkegaard or Martin Luther King. There is Goethe and Kant, but the usual suspects are missing.
The inclusion of Hammarskjold is interesting. He certainly had a spiritual journey in life but until he died this was largely hid from the world, where he vehemently dwelled. Following the plane crash that took his life, his journal was discovered in his New York apartment with the instruction that it could be published. It was and it caused an immediate stir for the language in this journal was not so much about his exterior work as the interior life he hid from the world.
Donne does not spend a lot of time with Hammarskjold, but does reference him in the mystical necessity of solitude and silence. Hammarskjold alone-ness, in spite of being a great man known to millions, is a worthy topic onto itself, but Donne leaves it at a man who was willing to utter the “ecstatic yes” where companionship with God was a constant though not companionship with others.
Right now I am only in a reflective, but confusing place. What is not so confusing is Donne is speaking of being out in the world, but not of it. He stresses the interior life too much for this to be the case and he speaks of a companionship that is more pure than what the world has to offer. Over the next few days I hope to finish this, but if what I have read so far is any indication, I am sure it will take many more than a few days to absorb what I read.