Into the Mystic: My Years with Olga
by Susan McCaslin

Inanna Publications & Education Inc., 2014. ISBN 978-1-771-33183-3.
Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore
Posted on 06/10/2015

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Faith/Spirituality/Inspiration

Into the Mystic: My Years with Olga is a spiritual memoir for which "field notes" began in the late 1980s. Susan McCaslin, a retired instructor of English and Creative Writing, continued to expand on those notes which have become a mixed-genre spiritual memoir.

The book is "mixed genre" as it contains prose, poetry, and excerpts from her spiritual mentor, Olga Park's, many self-published and unpublished materials. Weaving together her own life, Olga's life and mystical practices, McCaslin prompts contemplation of one's own spiritual journey.

As so many years have passed, McCaslin has had an opportunity to bring her knowledge of poetry, spiritual practices and traditions to her reflections as well as to her life.

As for the term "mystic," McCaslin's definition is "a person whose life is an embodiment of love, whose wisdom arises from the earth and aspires to the stars... A mystic's love begins with the self, the family, the local community, but extends to the planet and even the universe, grounded in an all-encompassing mystery."

McCaslin writes clearly and well and shares her own story honestly. While she may be writing of visions, precognition, out-of-body excursions, nature epiphanies, experience of earlier incarnations and the like, all of it sounds grounded without devaluing or exploiting such mystical experiences in any way.

She invites readers to join her on "this journey out of curiosity, even with a healthy agnosticism." Through Olga, McCaslin discovered that the Christian tradition of her childhood faith "held at its deepest core a path of non-violent, universal love that coincided with those of other religions and spiritual traditions."

In the autumn of 1969, when McCaslin was twenty-two, her friend Patricia took her to meet Olga Park at the far end of the Burrard Inlet east of Vancouver, British Columbia. McCaslin had already embarked on a study of both Catholic and Protestant mystics so the timing was ideal.

Olga had left the institutional church and continued to see Jesus as her "lineage teacher." She was born as Mary Olga Park on February 24, 1891 in Gargrave, North Yorkshire, England. In 1910, Olga moved to Canada, Vancouver specifically, and married in 1917. She lived many years as a hermit, attracting "seekers" to her small cottage. Olga died in 1985.

Olga believed in ritual as "containment for the psychic energies." It was a way to set up "an energy field conducive to heightened states of awareness and enables those in the 'other life' to work more effectively with us," Olga said.

I agree with McCaslin that the process of writing is analogous. Making oneself available at the desk prepares one for, as McCaslin puts it, "visitations of the Muse when she comes with a sound pattern, image, or thought."

"Mystics like Olga demonstrate the hidden potential in us all to live more holistically," McCaslin writes. The contemplative, the activist, the praise-singer and the prophet were not separate in her. It sounds as if McCaslin can be described similarly. She has found the world around her to be "increasingly enchanting, wild, magical—integral to the divine unity" she sought as a child.

Susan McCaslin is an award-winning Canadian poet and Faculty Emerita of Douglas College in Westminster, British Columbia where she taught English and Creative Writing for twenty-three years. She has published eleven volumes of poetry including The Disarmed Heart (2014) and a volume of essays, Arousing the Spirit: Provocative Writings (2011). She has also edited two anthologies on poetry and spiritual practice. Susan lives in Fort Langley, British Columbia. Visit her website.

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