Mystical Tofu  

Posted by Joe Rawls

A highly recommended overview of mysticism is Carl McColman's The Big Book of Christian Mysticism (Hampton Roads Publishing Co, 2010), which will benefit both spiritual novices and folks with a more deeply established contemplative practice. One of many gems is his comparison of mysticism to tofu. Tofu absorbs the flavor of whatever is cooked with it; by itself it is quite bland and uninteresting. So we really never have "pure" mysticism, but mysticism flavored by whatever religious tradition happens to be nurturing it. This is a good corrective to the hackneyed--and thoroughly erroneous--notion of "spiritual but not religious".

The excerpt is found on pp 60-61 of the book. Also recommended is McColman's site Anamchara which is blogrolled on this site.


Mysticism is, in fact, like tofu. When you cook with tofu, it has a fascinating tendency to adopt the flavor of whatever you cook with it. Scrambled tofu, tofu curry, even barbecued tofu (yes, I'm from the South) all taste more like scrambled eggs or curry or barbecue than like tofu. Likewise, mysticism thoroughly and completely adopts the flavor and identity of whatever wisdom tradition it inhabits. Thus, Christian mysticism has an entirely different cultural and religious identity from, say, Vedanta or Zen.

Granted, tofu is tofu, regardless of the recipe you use it in. Mysticism is mysticism, regardless of the religious or cultural context. So in that sense, there really is an important unity of mystical wisdom that crosses religious boundaries. But if you've ever eaten plain, uncooked tofu, you'll notice that it is rather bland. If tofu's strength lies in its ability to adapt to whatever is it's cooked in, its weakness lies in its lack of defining taste or texture of its own. Likewise, a "pure" mysticism might sound nice in theory--an experience of unity or ecstasy, unencumbered by religious dogma--but in practice, the beauty of mysticism rests in how it manifests unity in a distinct, particular way.

So Christian mysticism is more than just pure mysticism with a little bit of Jesus mixed in. It is actually a unique, distinctive, and beautiful expression of God's love and truth. Conservative Christians believe it is the only expression of such truth, and even more liberal Christians might insist that they think it is the best possible way to God. But even if you do not see Christianity as any better (or worse) than any other wisdom tradition, I hope you'll recognize that Christian mysticism cannot just be reduced to other kinds of mysticism. There are important ways in which the Christian mystery is unique among world religions.

This is why any serious exploration of of Christian mysticism has to look at the nuts and bolts of the Christian religion in order to do justice to the topic. Indeed, immersing yourself in the world of Christian mysticism means something far beyond just learning to meditate: Christian mysticism explores meditation through a relationship with the Holy Trinity. This doesn't mean that it is all about thinking Christian thoughts, however. Rather, it means exploring a way of life that is shaped by the love and wisdom of Christ and Christ's followers, who Christian mystics understand to be literally part of Christ.

Take the Trinity and the Incarnation, for example--central teachings of Christianity that remain mysteries, which means they transcend and defy logical comprehension. No one can truly explore the splendor of Christian mysticism without embracing these great Christian mysteries. There's no way to avoid it. The mystery of a God who became flesh, or of a God whose very nature consists of loving relationships, is at the heart of what is distinctive about the Christian path.

This entry was posted on Sunday, January 2, 2011 at Sunday, January 02, 2011 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


Joe, Thank you for your intuition and service of guiding people in Christian Mysticism. It seems to free the mind from every form of bondage and causes the heart to beat with joy and happiness.

January 3, 2011 at 2:25 PM

Religion-nonsense flavored with whatever you want to taste.
I know most "progressives" are just looking for symbols and rituals to help keep them together and pretend that they're still "relevant", but few are as up front about it as yourself.

January 18, 2011 at 8:15 PM

thank you for this most insightful look into mysticism thru tofu,i like it,,,it warmed my heart this morning

February 2, 2011 at 7:40 AM

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