The title Mystics and Misfits awakened the realization that “mystic” is not even in my vocabulary, and even with the seemingly relatable label of “misfit” my understanding was woefully lacking. However, as the author seamlessly peeled back layers of time, prejudices, misunderstandings, and patriarchal adherence, this easy-to-read account of intentional community life revealed new depths about mystics and misfits and released encouragement for the ongoing process of growing one’s faith.
Many of today’s American churches offer a community living that involves mainly the gathering of Sunday morning worship. Though congregants may genuinely enjoy each other, sharing life together ends there. The author, Christiana N. Peterson and her husband hungered for more and found themselves taken with the idea of intentional Christian community living on a farm in the Midwest; a place to be a faithful part of everyday community, to live simply and love deeply. However, they found that the simple life turns out not to be so simple.
In her book, Peterson does a wonderful job sharing the complexities of living life in present-day intentional community, where members share all responsibilities, rewards, and pain, while weaving into the account the stories of mystics who have gone on before in intentional living. Mystics—ones who desired to be holy as Jesus asks of us all—were countercultural. As they searched to know God apart from logic and doctrine their experiences with God were so vivid as to challenge intellectual faith and transform their lives. As readers, we come to see them also as misfits, due to being ill suited to their time, culture, and church; conspicuously different in how they choose to live in the world. The misfit label is applied by the author to her fellow community dwellers as she notes the clear similarities.
In Peterson’s journal, we are introduced to Saint Francis of Assisi. She seeks his wisdom regarding leaning into a deeper relationship with God. His struggles and utmost devotion give us pause to ponder our own struggles and our own level of devotion. “It is part of the genius of Saint Francis that he realized the way to God is the way God comes to us, not by ascending to some spiritual stratosphere but by descending and entering our world.”
Another mystic Peterson introduces is Saint Clare. Fellow disciple of Jesus, ardent follower and adherent of Saint Francis, Saint Clare built up a convent of female fellow believers through her extraordinary devotion to Christ. They lived as active participants of the convent Saint Francis established over 800 years ago, at a time when it was considered not only improper but dangerous for a woman to live without the protection of a man. Though Saint Clare’s writings are of patristic language, the hierarchy of patriarchy was totally absent in this devout community, a shining example of female and male servanthood together.
Continuing in Peterson’s personal account of life in the intentional farm community we are made aware of the ebb and flow of seasons, the joys and the struggles, betrayal and wounds that beset the members. They strongly desire to live the kind of love that is in conformity with God’s love yet find themselves at a difficult crossroads.
Mystics of old—who longed to be in union with the God who made himself small, who came to suffer alongside his creation, who descended and entered into our world and who called us to join him in that truly baffling kind of love—parallel those living in this intentional community. As the mystics tapped into the kind of love that propelled them to the fringes of their societies and churches and made them misfits, so has this community.
Christiana N. Peterson writes to help others practice true hospitality and love, and to lean into community life with more openness. She writes to show how those who have gone before knit into those of us who contemplate these issues and she writes to show that only the incarnation of Christ legitimizes the quest of a mystic, the life of a misfit.
Promoting biblical justice and community is tied into this account. Although it is not explicitly about biblical gender equality and leadership in a Christian context, it is consistent with the mission of calling women and men to share authority equally in service and leadership, and also speaks to the challenges and seeming failures that one may encounter.
Mystics and Misfits contains encouragement to lean deeper into relationship with God, going beyond intellectual assent and rational belief, into profound transformation by his love.
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