An Increasing Amount of Millennials Raised in Christianity Are Turning Towards the Practice of Mysticism

Richard Rohr, right, the 76-year-old Catholic contemplative, mystic and author, visits with Wes Lambert, 27, of Brooklyn, left, and Anthony Graffagnino, 28, of Berkeley, Calif., center, after the close of The Universal Christ conference in Albuquerque, N.M., in March 2019. RNS photo by Cathleen Falsani

Anthony Graffagnino describes himself spiritually as both frustrated and curious.

A Pentecostal turned Unitarian, the 28-year-old Graffagnino said he’s had his fill with “stale and dead expressions of faith that I saw really doing nothing to better the people around me or the world around me.”

Discovering the Christian mystical tradition through the work of Franciscan friar Richard Rohr helped change that.

“Father Richard’s work allowed an entryway into Christianity when I didn’t think there was any,” said Graffagnino, who is studying to be an interfaith chaplain at Starr King School for the Ministry, a Unitarian Universalist seminary in Berkeley, Calif.

Graffagnino was one of a number of millennials drawn to The Universal Christ — a four-day conference in New Mexico’s capital last month led by Rohr, one of the preeminent Christian contemplatives of the last century.

Pentecostal in his early childhood, Unitarian through his teen years and then spiritually unaffiliated until he began “flirting with the Quakers” in his late 20s, Graffagnino also has explored Vedic Hinduism, spiritual Taoism, mystical Judaism, and Sufism.

Rohr’s work has been a bridge between those spiritual traditions and his native Christianity, where they have “found a resting place in my own backyard,” he said.

While many younger Americans today are spiritually unaffiliated, aka “nones” — a quarter of all adults under the age of 30 in the United States say they don’t identify with any religion or spiritual tradition, according to the Pew Center for Religion and Public Life — millennials are increasingly finding contemplative spirituality appealing.

“One of my publishers says (younger Christians) are my biggest demographic — not Catholics but post-evangelicals,” Rohr told Religion News Service in an interview a few days before The Universal Christ conference began in late March.

“The collectives are emerging outside of formal religion, for the most part, because we became too insular,” the 76-year-old Catholic mystic said. “They’ve imbibed this kind of universal sacred, and we’re seeing this especially in the millennials. They just put us to shame.”

Whether it’s in the stillness of silent meditation, walking a labyrinth, or centering prayer; the practice of engaging with scripture through Lectio Divina, the Ignatian tradition’s Daily Examen; or a combination of Buddhist mindfulness, Kundalini breath work and Taizé prayer, many young adults are happy (to borrow a line from Van Morrison) to sail into the mystic.

“My heart speaks to me in the silence,” said Laurie Wevers, 35, a mental health therapist and spiritual director in San Diego.

Growing up as an evangelical Christian in the Midwest, Wevers wasn’t exposed to contemplative practice or mystical tradition. Then, a professor at her Christian college in Minnesota suggested she meet with a spiritual director.

Laurie Wevers, left, 35, a mental health therapist and spiritual director from San Diego, and Tracy Bindel, 30, a law student and anti-racism activist from Boston, stand with a cardboard cutout of Richard Rohr while holding table stanchions looking for “young-er” and “under 40” contemplatives for a meet-up after an evening session at The Universal Christ conference in Albuquerque, N.M. RNS photo by Cathleen Falsani

While similar in practice to psychological talk therapy, spiritual direction’s aim is different. In the Christian tradition, a spiritual director is a person of faith who is trained to help guide other people of faith into a deeper relationship with God.

Like all contemplative traditions, it places a high value on personal experience with the divine.

In the dozen or more years since Wevers found contemplative spirituality through spiritual direction, she has become a spiritual director herself and earned a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy.

Most recently she enrolled in The Living School, an intensive two-year program of study in contemplative practice and mystical tradition at The Center for Action and Contemplation, founded by Rohr in Albuquerque 32 years ago.

“Being contemplative and being quiet did something to my heart and brought peace — it brought change without me having words (for) how that happened,” said Wever, adding that other contemplatives, including Christians Parker Palmer, Meister Ekhart and St. John of the Cross and the Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron, also have influenced her faith and practice.

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Source: Religion News Service