Part 4 in a multi-installment series for Lent.
4. Your First Spiritual Experience – What was the nature of your first spiritual experience? How does it still shape you today? When did your spirituality move from ideas rooted in your head to faith rooted in an experience?
My faith journey did not move from ideas rooted in my head to faith rooted in experience. My journey has been the exact opposite. I’ve always located faith in experiences of love, awe, wonder, and emotion rooted in my heart. I see my faith journey as a search for the ideas, language, and art to express the mystical wonder I have found to be at the core of my life.
Some of my favorite ideas include process theology and universalism.
Process theology (together with process philosophy called process thought) encompasses my idea of God and religion. My favorite definitions of God (and all such definitions are incomplete) include “the creative, sustaining, and transformative power at the heart of all that is” and James Luther Adams’ concept of a “sovereign object of devotion….When the temperature of a person’s mind or spirit rises to defend something to the very last ditch, then generally that person’s sacred devotion is at stake. The test is as revealing when applied to the believer in God as when applied to the unbeliever. It may show that the God avowed by the believer is not really sacred to him or her. It can show also that a serious rejection of belief in God may be a form of the love of God in the sense that it is a giving of oneself to, an identification with, something cherished above all else.”
Universalism for me means that any concept of God must include access for everyone. Any concept of God that excludes anyone because of ontological reasons must be rejected.
In universalism, God is an opt-out proposition, not an opt-in for those meet a set requirement for ways of thinking about God. Salvation, or healing and acceptance, is universal, for each and every person. Or as Nick Cave sings:
Everybody’s got a room
In God’s Hotel.
Everybody’s got a room.
Well you’ll never see a sign hanging on the door
Saying ‘No vacancies anymore’
The first spiritual experience of which I have any awareness is when I was a toddler. The story if largely apocryphal other than I have a memory of my dad holding me in a church full of people and I was looking out over the sea of heads to a statue of Mary’s husband, Joseph the carpenter. That’s the extent of my memory. My dad said I would point at the statues in the Catholic church and name them – Mary, Joseph, Bernard, Anne. Nothing too radical there. But he’d also say I would point to thin air and name others – Michael, Raphael, Anthony. I have no memory of seeing other saints and angels whose statues were not there. But it’s a story my dad would tell and he believed it. I do remember vividly however, the warm fuzzy feeling of my dad holding me in a crowded church and looking at Joseph.
The next spiritual experience in conscious memory is a recurring one I’ve had all my life, but I’ll get into that in the next post as it deals with my first transcendent experience of the interdependent web of existence central to Unitarian Universalist spirituality. Enough for now is to tell you it was having a sense of wonder and awe while sitting on the rocks by the dock and the lighthouse watching the waves meet the shore.
During grade school I would have persistent and vivid deja vu experiences. They became so regular and so intense that I hoped they would go away. Years later when I encountered science fiction stories of time travel and hopping back and forth between dimensions, I felt as I if I’d had those type of experience. I remember breaking down crying one day as I had come home from school and virtually everything that happened to me that day left me startled as I’d felt it already happened. Not knowing what else to do, my mom told to pray that these experiences would stop. I’ve rarely had a deja vu experience since.
The next spiritual experiences I remember were numinous experiences one Christmas Eve looking at a start and watching Carl Sagan’s original PBS series “Cosmos.” Both of these I discussed earlier in this series.
One thing all of these experiences have in common is they gave me a sense of being connected to something much larger than myself. I felt as much as knew there is much more reality than can be logically explained. I’ve never had an internal battle between faith and facts, between spirituality and science. It’s always been one big more or less integrated whole. Science helps us understand our reality and there’s something about our spirit that puts us in touch with parts of reality we as yet don’t fully understand, or understand at all.
My spirit continues to be thrilled by quantum mechanics, the idea that even respected physicists acknowledge it’s possible that our entire experience of reality is a very advanced computer simulation. My spirit continues to also be awed by the experience of meditation, and sun through the leaves of trees.