In his 2006 book by Paulist Press, Transforming Heart and Mind: Learning from the Mystics, Peter N. Borys, Jr., shows that he is not afraid of tackling an ambitious project. He sets as his goal the synthesis of the most important insights from the history of Christian mysticism and the integration of this with Roman Catholic theology and select aspects of modern psychology. What he accomplishes is impressive and definitely of value for us in this issue as we seek to mine the riches of our Christian mystical heritage.
The book draws principally on the mystical theology of such classical mystics as Augustine, Bonaventure, Aquinas, Teresa of Avila, and John of the Cross, but also makes excellent use of contemporary voices such as Gabriel Marcel, Bernard Lonergan, and Edith Stein. Thankfully, Borys doesn’t simply offer us a summary of these and other authors. Rather, he chooses the more difficult but valuable task of providing a synthesis. The result necessarily reflects his own journey, and for this reason, I immediately knew that I wanted to interview him, not just review the book. Noting on the book jacket that he was trained as an attorney and is a member of the New York State Bar caught my attention and made me wonder how a lawyer found his way into writing on mystical transformation. That seemed a good place to begin when I was finally able to track him down.
David: Peter, first let me thank you for the book and for your willingness to interact with me around it. But the place I want to start is not with the book but with you. I am interested in hearing a bit about your own spiritual journey. You refer to the seeds planted by the Holy Spirit at your baptism leading at age thirty-three to an awakening and deeper conversion. Tell me a bit more about what was happening to and in you at this point.
Peter: At the time that I began to consciously awaken to God’s grace, I was working with my parents in a paper distribution company that we had formed. This was a period of both great fulfillment and great pain, and in the midst of this, God offered grace to embark on a new direction for my life. The stress awakened me to the unresolved wounds of my false self, particularly as these appeared in my family relationships. This was a great gift to me—even greater because both my mother and father also experienced their own awakening at this time. This was the beginning of my conscious journey of transformation in Christ and my awareness that the path to the true self lay in union with God.
David: How did this lead to your engagement with the mystics?
Peter: I was led to the mystics through my search for healing and self-development. My conversion awakened me to a need to better understand the meaning of my life. This quest for wisdom and understanding led me to the study of psychology, philosophy, anthropology, religion, theology, and mysticism. The mystics led me to meditation, and through this, God drew me to a new understanding of my faith. In the spring of 1998, I discovered the works of Thomas Merton and Thomas Keating, and as a result of this, I was led to do a retreat at the Cistercian Abbey of the Genesee. Over the next few years, I visited the Abbey often. It played an important role in the early stages of my spiritual awakening. The more I became exposed to the writings of the mystics, the clearer it became that mystical transformation is the development of the true self that I was seeking.