Book Review: Muddy Mysticism

“How do we understand these times of intense and utter silence, if we will, if you will, what do we do on days when we are completely undone by death, the real awful breathtaking depths and shadows underneath the living the caves within the mountain, maybe all we can do on days like this is cry or stare at the wall and let that be our prayer…”

–Natalie Bryant Rizzieri in Muddy Mysticism

I finished reading this book while traveling in April and forgot to post my review! Muddy Mysticism was more of a personal memoir than I had originally expected—I think I was expecting more of a theory or exploration of what “muddy mysticism” might look like in the world/our lives, rather than such a personal journey, but once I sank into the rhythm, I found this book read with the smooth and engaging style almost of a novel. Or, at the least, a thought-provoking, enriching, unflinchingly honest and vulnerable conversation with a dear friend. I feel like if I met Natalie in person, I would think we know each other already! A beautiful, touching, richly engaging, sometimes painful, exploration of motherhood, personhood, marriage, work, and spirit.

Written while living in New York City and parenting two small children, Natalie writes: it’s not a rising above, it leans toward the imminent. Imminence here refers to metaphysical and philosophical theories of divine presence, in which the divine encompasses or is manifested in the madness, contrasted with transcendence, which suggests the spiritual world rises above the mundane or material world. This isn’t to say that a transcendent spiritual path is not at times a powerful antidote to inescapable suffering, or that a longing for the transcendent is not otherwise healthy, perhaps even especially for a mother. I have known the glory and the beauty of this rising above in one long season of my life, I would even say that it saved me. But for those of us who are no longer untethered, we need a mysticism that can stalk the wild shores of our daily lives. At the very least, we need a mysticism that is saturated in imminence and transcendence, both to combat hopelessness and a monochromatic schema we need our eyes opened wide to our own unique daily dance with the divine, however chaotic mundane, mulberry stained and understated. It may be this is a mysticism for those who love the world or want to love it more. It does not require a degree or a certain disposition or religion or church. It is not in creeds, but in the prayers of the body as we move through the day. It is in the common moments we share, the collective experience of a train ride, kneeling to pick up puzzle pieces, the way sycamore branches click together like ice cubes in a glass. I do not want someone to tell me what the experience of the Divine is or is not. And, I do not want to tell you either. But, I want it. I scour my days for it and hope to come forth baptized both by what is and what is not.

Mysticism in this book is understood as the lived and direct experience of the sacred.This book had so many gems and bits of magic in it, particularly for people who are “bending their lives” around the needs of other people. I’ve spoken and written often that a lot of my religion, my goddess centered path is of the sticks and stones and heart and bones. It is not about a rising above or transcending the body or the earth or escaping from reality. It’s about seeing the sacred in reality, the divine in the mud and the magic. The mystic soul can be alive and well, present and possible in the nitty gritty reality of our daily lives in all their blood and tears and grit and mud.

I did a longer audio review of this book on Patreon too. And, I have a past audio on Everyday Mysticism

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