THE MYSTICAL HERITAGE OF MARY AGREDA
The angels keep their ancient places;
No undue importance was ever given to Mother Agreda because of her stupendous paranormal demonstrations, perhaps because seventeenth century continental Europe, where her fame as a religious writer would become established, was not prepared to accept the nature and development of the paranormal as humanly possible. It is significant that while her psychic aptitude was understood by the Native American, most Europeans of her day were far more impressed by the latest mechanical inventions and implements of conquest. This being so, they erred in judging native peoples as spiritually and culturally inferior. Or perhaps then as now prejudice is not so blind as it is self-serving and a cover for greed.
Looking back from Agreda's time, those called “Indians” (because of a navigational error) valued the land on which they lived far more than those who would displace them. Tribal peoples, in their affinity with the earth, knew of the necessity of a giving and receiving relationship with the land, something we have still to learn.
Only in recent decades have scientists begun to comprehend the delicate web of life and how upsetting to its balance the combination of human ignorance, arrogance and greed has been. Yet the Native American intuitively understood the theory of the interrelatedness of all creation, and towards which science now is turning.
Perhaps it was the aptitude of the Southwest tribes for relating to the environment that accounted for their psychic abilities, not only in being able to communicate with their Lady in Blue but also in their readiness to embrace her as their teacher. After all, both by nature were mystics, and as true mystics both regarded the spirit world as all pervasive. If this still is not generally appreciated concerning the peoples to whom Agreda made herself know, it may be because of a persisting stereotypical perception through the eyes of tourists stopping to buy trinkets en-route the Grand Canyon, and this in spite archeological diggings and anthropological studies which unmistakably inform that the Pueblo Native Americans’ public ceremonies were the result of generations of asceticism. Moreover, Agreda, in her accounts of the Jumanos, disclosed that this tribe understood the supernatural as only the exceptional European of her day did.
During those same years of Agreda’s teleportations, the focus in Europe was the invention of all the things that could be made from metal in order to extend their physical powers. Most especially this included the weapons by which the subjects of foreign conquests could be subjugated and their land and wealth usurped. As a study in contrast, while the Europeans were concentrating on the tools of conquest, the Native Americans were devoting themselves to the study of the natural world in which they lived. From their observation of nature came their knowledge of the cycles and patterns of changes; while in communication with the spirits of plants they learned of their value for food and medicine; and from the habits of birds and beasts they gained true wisdom. With nature as their school, these tribal peoples acquired a rare knowledge of the laws governing the created world.
By late twentieth century, quantum physics was beginning to catch up with native intelligence. Compelling evidence was accumulating that the basis of much scientific knowledge was erroneous. Matter was no longer conceived as solid, or the natural world as it appeared; rather the particles and waves which manifest as energy and matter were being understood as interchangeable, as was a third component--consciousness. But had those native to this land known this centuries before?
If the invisible and visible worlds of spirit and matter form an interpenetrating whole, and if now consciousness is a third factor of relativity theory, does this not indicate that science’s and the mystic’s perception of reality are converging? And although dualistic thinking dies hard and would cling to the certainty of black and white, good and evil thinking, there are signs that the enmity between science and religion is breaking down. Both, in fact, may be ready to reexamine how such mystics as Agreda and earlier peoples arrived at their understandings without the benefit of the scientific method. To the degree that this happens the people of earth truly may be entering a new era of great discoveries—both in the physical and spiritual sciences.
In studying the nature and development of the paranormal powers evidenced in Agreda's extraordinary life, she emerges as a bridge between two worlds; not only the old and new worlds of Europe and America, but also those of matter and spirit. Ultimately it must be seen that it was her "being" that fostered her "doing." It was her life that exemplified "the way to do is to be." She was both born sensitive and born mystic, and she demonstrated how the two go hand in hand.
Still, the gifts of the psychically sensitive person and those of the mystic do not necessarily go together, even though in Mary’s case and from early childhood they seem to have. The particular religious environment in which she grew up certainly encouraged the development of her spiritual awareness. And this eventually led to a marked degree of psychical development in her adult life. In any event, this makes her life as good an example as I am aware of as to how psychic endowments and spiritual gifts in some cases do co-exist.
Even though psychism and spirituality are in no way synonymous, they are often confused. Sometimes where there is an over abundance of pride in self accomplishment psycho-physical demonstrations can be mistaken for true spirituality. This presents not only the danger of self-aggrandizement to the person who experiences the inflation, but also to those who are prone to be overly impressed by "signs and wonders" and fail to look to God as the source of all good. Such, however, was not a danger for Mary by reason that her sense of being in Christ—in the presence of God—was strong enough to lead her safely in the direction of true spirituality. As Father Benavides so wisely observed, "The miracle of Mother Agreda was her sanctity." The true miracle was her attainment of a unitive state of consciousness through which the divine could work. In explaining this to her interrogators, she quoted the words of Jesus: "I do not speak as from myself; it is the Father, living in me, who is doing this work."(1)
Where is the truth of the greater Reality in which Mary of Agreda lived to be found? How is it to be entered and experienced? Of this Browning wrote:
The truth is within ourselves
Through years of meditation and contemplation Agreda discovered the truth that abides in that “inmost center.” And she allowed it to break through into the "gross Flesh" of her life.
According to Evelyn Underhill, mysticism is the "art of union with reality."(2) Christian mysticism describes it as “the kingdom of God within.” By this is meant an inner sense of God’s presence and power. From personal experience the individual comes to know God through a sense of conscious union. From the moment the contact is made--the moment of grace--the person's life changes. Ego-centeredness gives way to centeredness in God. The person relaxes into the Immutable One and feels there is something other than self operating in and through one. Essentially, this is what mysticism is.
Mystical illumination can happen instantly, as it did in the case of St. Paul or Dr. Richard Bucke. In his book he calls it "cosmic consciousness."(3) Other names are: illumination, enlightenment, being born again, conversion, and salvation. Sometimes the experience comes gradually, but however, when it happens the consciousness is lifted up into a new state of being, a new awareness, or receptivity to the divine. Then miracles can and often do happen, as they did with Mother Agreda. And yet miracles, it should be made clear, are in no way indicative that illumination has taken place. There can be psychic manifestations or the siddhis described in ancient Vedic literature that come without spiritual illumination; or there can be a spiritual illumination without any psychic manifestation. “Saint” and “sinner” alike can experience psychic manifestations while a genuine spiritual illumination is life transforming.
As we have seen before, the spiritually-inclined may be more open to psychic phenomena, but their goal is union with God. Sometimes, however, it happens that those who have chosen the religious life must use psychic gifts open to them in order to accomplish spiritual purposes. If Mary was to realize her passion to teach the peoples of “New Spain” she would have to overcome the barrier of distance. Ordinary means of crossing an ocean and a continent were simply not open to a woman of her day. If her mysticism, however, had not been both "within" and "without"--both esoteric and exoteric--there would have been no teleportations. It was her desire to take the Gospel message to the Native Americans that brought on the ecstasy (psychic trance), and the trance that triggered the teleportations.
There was also the barrier of language and the means of communicating the message she desired to bring, which in her case was again paranormally overcome. Actually telepathy is a phenomenon that parapsychologists have thoroughly investigated and verified and on which numerous reports have been published. But was Agreda's desire to communicate with the Native Americans the causal factor in her ability to do so? She was, of course, aware of a similar phenomenon described in the Book of Acts known as glossolalia. This took place on the day of Pentecost when persons speaking many different languages were gathered in Jerusalem and Peter, preaching in his native tongue was heard by those present to be speaking in each’s separate language.
What can be said is that Mother Agreda, never confused psychic endowments for spiritual gifts, and that this was another mark of her humility. If she had, she would have impoverished both sides of her nature, because she would have been demonstrating glory for the self and, in doing so, hiding the glory of the source--God.
The Catholic Church has wisely underplayed these phenomenal aspects that cause human beings to marvel at the accomplishments of their saints. The Jesuit Father, Herbert Thurston, who wrote a series of studies entitled The Physical Phenomena of Mysticism, points out:
Throughout Holy Writ, from the days of Pharaoh to those of Simon Magus, the position seems to be taken up that while true believers do not possess any monopoly of signs and wonders, the mighty works which they perform by the power of the Most High are in every way more stupendous than the prodigies of natural or diabolical magic with which they are placed, as it were, in competition."(4)
Thus, three sources are given for psychic phenomena: natural, diabolical, and spiritual. Paul taught this also. Lamentably, there is a tendency to emphasize the evil that can come from using psychic abilities rather than to appreciating their contribution to human good. Perhaps the witch of Endor has frightened us overmuch.
The attitude of religion towards psychic abilities, even for good purpose, still creates considerable opposition in many churches today, as in Agreda's day, when her superiors criticized her for her paranormal activity. There were times when the holy nun herself wondered if her teleportations had not originated with the devil. Fr. Thruston raised the question of whether her doubts about the origin of her writings (which he attributed to automatism) could have explained her having complied too easily to the order to burn the City of God and other writings (as will be seen in the final chapter). Certainly she could not be blamed had she wanted to be relieved of the diary of her psychic excursions, these having caused her so much embarrassment.
Although humanity at present may be in conflict with technology, no one would ever think of abandoning further experimentation in the physical sciences. At this juncture in time, the Church and science would do well to take this same position and engage together in both psychic and spiritual research. The need is for open minded exploration into all sides of the human personality and especially for weighing the evidence of so far unexplainable experiences. These should then be classified and the records retained until such time they are better understood. To discard evidence merely because it cannot be "proven" seems unreasonable, and to discard evidence because it violates the present concept of universal law seems equally absurd.
In the history of science, established theories periodically come into question as new discoveries make it necessary to re-examine old precepts. The same holds true for religion which can be even more protective of its cherished beliefs. In contrast the philosophers for centuries have maintained that both the psychical and the physical worlds vary according to individual or collective perception. Only the world of spirit--the world of pure Being--is unchanging. Here Agreda's experience provides the key to the doors between all three worlds. The evidence suggests that the key was her humility. With her the personal sense was absent, even from childhood. This made her an open channel through which the Spirit of God could work. If, as observed in Agreda’s life, the first step was renunciation of self, the second step was total reliance on the Spirit to do "the works."
This certainly helps clarify why undue importance should not be given the manifestation of "signs and wonders." In some cases, when narcissism has crept in sensitives have lost their gifts, thus reinforcing the conclusion that psychic gifts, unlike physical gifts, are best developed when there is a selfless desire to serve human good. Nor should they be looked upon as permanent gifts, but rather as coming and going according to their need.
As Mother Agreda knew, this concept came from Paul whom she greatly admired. ("I live now not with my own life but with the life of Christ who lives in me."(5)) This is also the universal view of mysticism--from the more impersonal mysticism of the East to the more personal and active mysticism of the Hebrews, and from Moses, Elijah, and especially as taught by Jesus. This view is rooted in the idea that human beings were created in the image of God; that the Spirit of God is incorporated in human nature just as the essence of the flower is incorporated in the plant. The essence of the mystic’s perception of reality is that of the soul in personal relationship with God rather than in a state of estrangement from the Creator. Yet in the scientific age the zeal for knowledge acquired through the senses has been at the expense of intuitive knowledge. The result has been to widen the individual’s sense of separation and desperation because in the process the individual has lost insight into the purpose and meaning of life.
Hopefully, as technology also brings East and West and past and present together, new discoveries of ancient spiritual wisdom will bring on a new age of spiritual discovery, and a time when the experiences of earlier mystics--from whatever culture, age, race or creed--are seen to confirm one another’s experiential knowledge of God, knowledge based on direct, subjective experience.
Agreda's mysticism differed from some encountered in the past and present in that she had to do something about it: a Quietist she was not. She wanted to be expended in the interest of the Native Americans. This, too, was essentially the mysticism of Jesus, of Paul, and of Francis, the father of Agreda’s Order, and of other mystics, including the founder of Quakerism, George Fox. Agreda was able to apply what had been revealed to her in meditation according to the reasoning of Paul when he said:
If the spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is in you, then He who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal body through His spirit living in you.(6)
Dr. Albert Schweitzer, in his profound book, The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle, wrote:
We're always in the presence of mysticism when we find a human being looking upon the division between earthly and superearthly, temporal and eternal, as transcended, and feeling himself, while externally amid the earthly and temporal to belong to the superearthly and eternal.(7)
Paul accounted for this ability to live in the temporal and eternal as a gift of God (grace), granted in the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Prof. R. C. Zaehner also pointed out that Christ's life, death, and resurrection represented in the physical body what the mystic must experience in the soul.(8) According to Paul, when a person accepts this as a gift of grace, then that person is no longer a natural being (governed by the mortal mind) but is transformed into a supernatural being. Obviously, this is what Mother Agreda realized, and which she described in her later years as being "dead to the flesh.”
Through the cross-fertilization of Eastern and Western mysticism more and more individuals have become interested in exploring their inner selves through meditation. The alacrity with which many young people have abandoned mind-expanding drugs to follow the contemplative way of inner adventure is another indication of growing interest in spiritual matters.
Another point might be made is that wars are promulgated by desiring possessions or putting too much value on the material. The idea of Psalm 24--"To the Lord belongs earth and all it holds, the world and all who live in it"--will be accepted only as people discover their at-one-ment with God and therefore value spiritual rather than material wealth.
In mysticism the self is relinquished and contact is made with the source or the center from which the supply flows. When individuals discover this through meditation, they discover the source of the supply. Then interest in material things naturally lessens. It follows that in a collective evolution of consciousness, the discovery of the inner source of supply would end the collective obsession with possessions and with possessing the earth.
In much of the twentieth century, the greatest obstacle to religious belief was that for the majority of people the space-time world of the materialistic environment was the only world being explored. Individuals had become so mesmerized in acquiring knowledge through the five senses that it was difficult for the majority to accept the revelation of the small minority of mystics that Ultimate Reality was experienced through exploring the kingdom of God within. As this minority increases so does the likelihood of a spiritual renaissance.
Singularly, the spiritual hunger now being experienced is an active mysticism such as Agreda’s in her fervency to help the Native Americans. It is a mysticism of the Cross--one that seeks not only vertical union with God but that reaches out horizontally to humanity, knowing that “in Christ there is no East or West,” but in him all are one great fellowship of love. As Schweitzer makes clear, this is Paul’s “being in Christ” mysticism, and the same as First John narrates:
What we have seen and heard
"You are from God and you have in you one who is greater than anyone in the world."(10) In this assurance Agreda could let go of anxiety and worry, and believe also with Paul that God’s grace was sufficient for her, and that God’s power was perfected in her weakness.(11)
The method of meditation the Old Testament advises is to "Pause a while and know that I am God."(12) When contact with the greater One is made, infinity replaces the finite and the soul discovers its identity as an eternal child of God. In Agreda’s life this truth freed her soul simply to be, and from this all she was able to do flowed naturally.
In the war-torn world of the past and now the present century, it is easy to confuse the idea of freedom from outer discord with the biblical idea of the soul’s inner peace--Paul’s “peace that passes understanding.” From what is known of Agreda’s mystically-attuned Native Americans, they already were living lives that were, essentially, in harmony with their Creator and with creation. And the Jumanos, at least, were known to be peace-loving. Yet they must have recognized in Agreda’s presentation of the Gospel that there was something here for which their souls hungered. Perhaps, also, in her presentation of the message of the Cross, they were able to intuitively grasp the universality of its underlying symbolism. Or most of all, perhaps, they knew her reaching-out to them was rooted in a love that was selfless.
In Mary’s relationship with the Native Americans she was able to demonstrate how the finite limitations of time and space are transcended, and in her later years of mystical vision she attained that mystical state Dr. Schweitzer has described as "belonging to superearthly and eternal while still belonging to the temporal and earthly." Active mystic that Schweitzer also was, the path of his heart had led him into the heart of Africa as a medical missionary. And it may be significant that out of his experience with the native peoples of Africa he concluded that world consciousness is more ready to receive the revelation of the Christ where there is suffering, want, deprivation, sickness and war; more so than where there is bounty, comfort, luxury, and ease.
How can an age which contemplates the possibility of persons being replaced by robots get back on track? And how can the atrophied faculties by which human beings once knew their lives as at home in the omniverse be regained? Meditation is one answer, and not a new discovery but an ancient means of divine/human communication, lost through disuse except to the mystics.
As for technology, where do all the mechanical means of doing things come from except from the mind’s ability to extend itself? In other words, technology only amplifies and replicates innate human potential. In extending itself by mechanical and technological means, human creativity achieves what it has the potential to achieve without mechanical means. But to do so necessitates a re-visioning of what is humanly possible. When a collective shift in this direction is made, then the war with technology will be resolved. Even the robot will be seen as born of human imagination and creativity. The question is, do we want to go through life being robots or co-creators? Do we want to live from that inmost center through which the soul is connected with the Source, and by which humanity, as a whole, can live in harmony with one another, with nature, and with God?
Consider all the things that human thought-power has created over the past century: the telegraph, the telephone, radio, television, the computer, the automobile, aircraft, spacecraft--all mechanical means contrived to extend physical powers; all mind-created things operating in harmony with the earth-laws by which they are governed. Contemplate now a similar concerted effort to recognize and apply the psychic laws of the omniverse, so that instead of being jet-transported persons could be teleported, as were Mary Agreda and the twentieth century Padre Pio. Perhaps then the psychic world will be understood as part of the human realm, to do with as we will--even to destroying--or to choose to live according to spiritual law--the law of love--and be free from discord and earthly limitations.
It is well to remember that as human beings the choice is ours, and that we ought not blame God for the illusory world of human creation. Instead we ought to realize that God is not a participant in the world of greed, hate and war, or as Jesus told Pilate: "My kingdom is not of this kind."(13)
As the world over many are re-appraising the world, this is leading them to seek new (and at the same time old) ways in which to live in an omniverse that encompasses a three-part totalityof being--the psychical and spiritual as well as the physical.
1. John xiv. 10