Since 2000, Ottawa Archbishop Marcel Gervais has expressed his opinion on a variety of faith topics. These texts were initially published in the "Ask the Religion Experts" column which appears every Saturday in The Ottawa Citizen. As of June 2005, Msgr. Patrick Powers, Vicar General, will be taking on the responsibility of the weekly articles.

Does your faith have a mystical side (speaking in tongues, Kabballah, Sufism, for instance)? Can anyone practise it?

Today, in addition to many other forms of contemplation, mysticism is viewed as a relatively common activity. However, it began slowly over the centuries and gradually picked up momentum. Always understood as a process resulting from the experience of God, it is traditionally described as a loving knowledge of God which is born in a personal encounter with the divine. It involves an awareness of the presence of God and a "being drawn" into union with him. The concept first appeared in the writings of the Greek Fathers, especially Clement and Origen, who spoke of a mystical interpretation of scripture. The word "mystical" appears in the fifth century writings of a monk called Pseudo-Dionysius. His works led to the writings of Decemberine, Bernard and Gregory.

Schools of mysticism began to flourish in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, as in the Cistercian and Franciscan schools. In subsequent centures, these were followed by the Dominicans, the Carmelites (John of the Cross) and eventually Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila and Thomas Merton. People still follow these various forms of mystical spirituality as a means to experiencing God.

Speaking in tongues is one of the more celebrated aspects of charismatic prayer. It is used both in personal prayer and in communal payer celebrations when it is often spontaneous. This is not their only form of prayer, others are for healing (physical and emotional) or deliverance. This movement counts many independent and diverse groups in its membership.

Remember, many effective and lively models of mysticism and contemplation, from the earliest ones I mentioned to contemporary ones, are available to us today. Hopefully each individual will find one which best suits their particular needs. All of them see prayer as a gift of the Holy Spirit which both praises the Lord and leads us to be closer to Him and to grow in His love.