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Growing into God

Growing into God: A Beginner’s Guide to Christian Mysticism
by John Mabry
Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, 2012
304 pages
Reviewed by Greg Richardson

Growing into God: A Beginner’s Guide to Christian Mysticism by John Mabry is an excellent introduction to practical mysticism. Mabry is a United Church of Christ pastor in Oakland, California, USA, who helps train spiritual directors and writes on his website about transgressive theology: dangerous thoughts about God and faith. Growing into God connects readers with mystical spirituality openly and accessibly. It is an excellent place to begin exploring mystical Christianity and comparing mystics from different spiritual paths. The author’s experience also gives him an insightful appreciation for the possibilities of spiritual direction.

Growing into God is filled with helpful information and references. The core of the book is organized around a classic description of the spiritual journey. Chapters focus on “Awakening,” “Purgation,” “Illumination,” and “Union,” as well as the transitions of the “Dark Night of the Senses” and “Dark Night of the Spirit,” as the steps on the journey. Each chapter describes an aspect of spiritual development and growth in tangible, engaging ways, and includes a description of a historic figure who illustrates that part of spiritual life.

In addition, Growing into God includes a helpful list of questions and answers, a collection of writings and sayings from mystics through history, and a section of spiritual practices that address each chapter in the core of the book. Two appendices and a list of references provide even more background and ways to connect with additional resources.

Mabry has a Christian background and experience, and Growing into God reflects that perspective. While his examples and resources are based primarily in Christian mysticism, he includes references to mystics from a variety of spiritual traditions. He also describes the various perspectives on mysticism from different places within the Christian church.

Growing into God is a valuable resource and tool for spiritual directors. It is an excellent place to begin exploring, or learning more about, mystical spirituality. As stated in the introduction, “Too often when people hear the word mysticism they think of dark, occult secrets or untouchable saints who never spill tomato soup on their white robes. But that’s not what mysticism is about at all. Mysticism is the pursuit of—or enjoyment of—union with God.

Insightful and helpful descriptions are included, along with inspiring scriptural and historic examples. I have been reflecting recently on the relationship between contemplation and action, and the section that gave me the most to process is a section on union and action in the chapter titled “Union.” There is much food for thought in the sayings included toward the end of the book, including one from Hildegard of Bingen: “Be not lax in celebrating. Be not lazy in the festive service of God. Be ablaze with enthusiasm. Let us be an alive, burning offering before the altar of God!”

Greg Richardson is a spiritual director and leadership coach in Pasadena, California, USA. He is also a lay oblate with New Camaldoli Monastery near Big Sur, California.

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