Those are the key questions, Grace, and it's impossible to give a definitive answer apart from faith. As you've noted, different denominations do have different perspectives on how to understand the Bible and even what constitutes religious experiences. Some, for example, are very suspicious of contemplative experiences.
In the Catholic tradition, we speak of a "hierarchy of truth" -- that not all Church teachings are equally important. Those that pertain to Church practices, for example, aren't as important as those about God, the incarnation, etc. So we have this body of wisdom to help us understand our experiences, and that's a good thing.
Generally believing in Trinity, resurrection of Christ, Bible, faith and baptism are common ground for the majority of Christian denominations. If one�s personal spiritual experience differ from any of them then its source is questionable, don�t you think so?
Internets been down for a week, what a lot of reading to catch up!!!
Grace, With you on Trinity, resurrection of Christ and faith. kinda with you on the Bible (sort of) and baptism yes, but remember there is the whole sprinkle vs. immerse, believers baptism vs. child baptism etc. not so clear cut!
Phil, I was not fully aware that there was a hierarchy of truth in the catholic church. What could you disagree with and still call yourself catholic?
Last time we were discussing with some Christian fellows about spiritual experience. One of them, an ardent follower of Pentecostal Church, said if we don�t find our spiritual experience explicitly in the Scripture it is not good to follow the experience. After I exchanged with him in length lastly he accepted that we can�t find all experiences explicitly in the Scripture; Scripture can only helps us as a compass.
Actually spiritual experience helps us to understand the word of God at deep level. Our experience can be weird and difficult to understand by mind but the detail process of experience is not important. The most important thing is the outcome. If the outcome of our experience is at odds with the word of God then we should have many reasons to doubt our experience. Genuine spiritual experience never goes against the word of God nor come with new message. Everything we experience has been experienced by people before us and the message has been always the same. We pass through different type of spiritual experience not to deliver a new message. The message of God is always the same regardless if we have experience or not. The advantage to have experience is it helps us to understand the message of God at deep level. God give us a chance to experience him directly through spiritual experience. He wanted intimate communion with us and inorder to do that he purify us through many ways amongst them is spiritual mystical experience. The experience can be different from people to people but the outcome is always the same which is to know God closely in accordance with his word. The living spirit is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. None of us add or subtract the word of God through our experience.
I don't think one needs scripture, or any framework in order to understand. Or that experience ever necessarily needs to be interpreted. I do believe that experience needs to be offered to the divine, or to a "higher power." I believe that "interpretation" occurs in the process of self-offering--and in a certain sense self-offering (loving gratitude for the experience; without conceptualizing these as mere words) is the fruit of the experience. Perhaps that sounds new agey, but in all earnestness, I don't believe the mind needs to know what's going on in the spiritual life. Or even that one needs "spiritual direction" at a certain point. I am saying that when the "energy" (for lack of a better word) is focalized in the heart, that ones life is being "guided." One perhaps needs to live ones life with wonder at this unfoldment--and to keep invoking the presence in the heart. Yet, one feels that the heart must be quietly praying. Must be gathered into the arms of the Beloved. Every experience only denotes self, as I am beginning to see. The experience is meaningless without the self-offering--the self-offering the fruit. For myself, this often means giving up on texts--because we demand a sign from that text--or more subtley, we hope for an "answer." I think the sign is in the self-offering, and therein lies the assimilation of the experience. And seeking "confirmation" of the experience seems to mean becoming enmeshed in the experience, rather than the self-offering--which is what the sign always seems to signify--without which, the experience is sterile. (Note the curious slippage there--for if one becomes "enmeshed" in the self-offering--one is caught both in self and divine!) How does one know than that one is truly living the self-offering? What is the phenomenology of self-offering, of self-giving. Does one feel this? I suppose that this manifests in unique ways in different people. This, at least, has been my experience, because I have sensed in all experiences, even the most beautiful, a kind of doubt, arrogance and vanity. This sounds strange, but, I believe that when the energy is focalized in the heart, that the centres take care of themselves--experiences do not seem to bother that awareness. I think this focalization in the heart is somehow key to this process of unfolding and recieving the "higher power," in attaining a mind that is clear. But receiving is in a certain sense--flowering, is it not? When one is truly receiving than one will be giving, quite naturally, quite wordlessly, without a doubt. That, to me, is the beginning of the spiritual life. And the end (!) It is strange than NOT to have a text, not to trust in the signs. But to trust in the process--the unfoldment itself. Things seem to fall away. One feels lighter. The density of those around me. The density within me. Is just life living itself--unfolding as I am unfolding. I am no better, no less "dense" that this life around me. But somehow, the heart (which, as you know quite well, is seat of the Virgin Mother) is the abode of all sweetness, newness, presence(is, perhaps the essence of my presence, the heart of my heart) and that never seems to wane--even in the darkest night. I suppose my presence than emerges from that Presence.
Now Brad, or someone is going to come along and set me straight!
And so when you say "the word of God" and experience always go together, even that sounds unnatual and slightly grandiose, because I don't think the word of God can ever be confirmed. I don't think your experience can be confirmed by a book, but only in their results--which are beyond any book. This, perhaps, sounds grandiose in its own right. In any case, someone will perhaps say that the heart center is opening. Or that I am a machine. Or that light works in this way. Or that love is this or that. I don't know. I think "I don't know" summarizes the moment of incarnation of Spirit--at least in my life. I don't know what is happening to me. At times, I may be going mad. I see no end to this process. Yet, somehow when I attempt to pray for others. Or when my intent is on realizing the utter sickness (and yes, the self is really a SICKNESS--negative as that sounds--it approximates the truth of the matter, as it should be FELT vicerally), the self-delusions, the pride, the labyrinths of in the astral world, the endless webs of seeking, the imagination (which can often be very close to the divine)--than that sickness becomes the sign of my liberation. So the body unfolding is really the text in this process--and one must sing with that, dance with that, and pray with that text. But I am speaking for myself, because I used to look for answers. I used to look for the "content" in the experience. The body is filled with "sickness." This sickness does have to be felt--and then one must either live with the consequences, or alter their ways. And there are spiritual sicknesses, as well. One can be sick because of spiritual experiences. One can be so light that they don't notice the sicknesses in the body. Somehow it all seems home in the heart--away from the never-ending circus of the pushes and pulls of the mind. Then one sees other problems. Like how groups form with spirtual intent and--actually--what they form is a collective imagination--based on some form of their religion that is HISTORY. In other words, a strain can emerge as groups form that is not the strain of the "divine" but is a strain of HISTORICAL consciousness--how does one work through that in context of group? Clearly, at this point one must walk alone--and BE possessed by all their demons. So, I would rather do without the religion, without a framework for the experience, which is significant only insomuch as it is offered. I don't think the intellect is wrong, but it must be guided by something higher. My intellect works. It pushes and pulls. And breaks through. Those break-thoughs never last. What lasts, really, is the bodies-spirits internal balance which seems to me to be in the heart. Not a chakra. The heart as a state of presence. An attentiveness, not only to spirit, but to the entire body. This for me is how I personally interpret experience without a framework. I don't believe I am possessed by a demon. I don't believe that what I experience is a "true" self, but rather something like my own presence quietly at home in the seat of the Mother/divine/I'm not sure who or what. This for me is the home that I have sought my whole life and never truly felt as fully as I had when I strayed from it without a book in hand, without a religious history to cling onto, without a priest who perhaps would place a roof over my head! I feel as though I may have spoken too much here, so I will shut up now. Oh, I made a mistake above when I refered to historical conciousness. The body itself contains the historical consciousness of a religion. So one cannot avoid dealing with that. I suppose the problem is mistaking the historical consciousness for the presence. Now, I feel as though I have said to much and feel grandiose in my own right. In any case, much is this is probably obvious to you and I think I have reiterated what you have stated. I did, however, feel the need to share my understanding of what "interpretation" might entail. I'm still not clear on self-giving--and how you could know if this is in fact what people are feeling--or if they are feeling something more exuberant. Because there is exuberant self-giving and there is self-giving of presence--two completely different processes. The first often preceeding the second, the second often fulfilling the first.I am more concerned here in guiding others to presence--and being able to help them distingush the exuberant from the presence. This, perhaps, sounds contradictory considering every thing I've stated above about heart=guidance.
I'm not sure if I was responding to you, Grace, or to those who need scripture to ascertain the importance/unimportance their experiences.
LOL. I just felt the need to share...I feel that interpretation has been a difficult process for me--especially after leaving the group I was involved with about 5 years ago. The world began to fragment, meaning became vague, the light of the Master seemed to have left me. It would have been quite easy at this point to grasp at some meaning. And I did attempt this, finding yogis, books. But as I grow in this way, the intensity of the heart increases. One realizes that the self truly resides in the heart--and that the other self is meant to come apart--thread by thread. The heart than rebuilds and creates an authentic home for the spirit. But this seems to occur in the most amazing way that hadn't occured to me until recently.
Asher, Grace informed us on another thread that he is taking a break from the forum for awhile to have more time for solitude and silence. I hope we hear from him again sometime.
I hear you to be saying that we shouldn't let interpretive systems squelch or distort an authentic openness before God, and that is indeed a great danger. OTOH, it seems to me that spiritual experiences aren't a completely private affair, and that a religious tradition can help one understand and integrate the experience. What say ye?
I agree that a community aspect of religion can serve to aid integration. It was difficult to feel the true self in the group context which I was in. At times it community simply seemed to be a space to assert of collective sense of worth which was not in keeping with the world around it.
Now, it seems to be easier to integrate my experience though exercise/work than in community worship--but I certainly pray for community. I wish there were artists and writers who felt the presence and understood the reponsibility of the presence. So many people seem co-dependent on one another--I cannot really handle that energy. And hence friends have left my life recently. It seems like I am constantly losing people I care for--but that care is at times painful--because they demand something from you, something that I can't really give them--i.e. I can't appeal to people's pride. I want to face a person and speak to him or her, not to something else. By something else, I mean I don't want all my/their pride/arrogance/whatever to get in the way--so the relationship is not real. It doesn't mean I don't want to have fun etc. etc. It just seems as tho I am picky of those people who I can really share something with.
There is something interesting about this working and carrying some sort of current into it--that defn helps in integration--but of a sort that isn't demonstrative--as it often is in a group.
Any way, thanks for providing this space to think through this.
" Any way, thanks for providing this space to think through this." -Asher
Yes, Phil, thank you so very much!
Asher, I appreciate you being here.
What you are attempting requires great courage, determination and persistence, as well as letting-go-ness and receptivity. I like hearing about your experiments and research. It helps me and I find it encouraging. Thank you.
Another guru, perhaps an attempt on my part to cling to some type of framework or system:
A tad bit overwhelming by page 850, but I can say that Aurobindo seems to have thought of just about everything. In over my head and heart...
Asher, do you ever feel like Brother Andrew, that it may be pointless to discuss one's state with anyone? I used to chat away about it, but I always
wind up back to the bliss and confusion all alone.
There have been a wide variety of 'spiritual' experiences in the history of the Christian Church. These range from forms of prayer resembling modern day Pentecostal worship, to deeply apophatic forms of contemplation.
Personally, I think there are five things which differentiate false experiences from true ones.
1) True experiences increase love of God and love for others (charity or compassion) and increase the desire to seek God and God's face
2) True experiences make us more aware of the mystery of God. The more you know God, the more you know you don't know what God is, and the more you realise God's nature exceeds your grasp.
3) True experiences do not make us sin or add to our pride. As the Cloud of Unknowing author said, you need to leave behind your intellect and your affections, save your loving will to God.
4) True experiences help us conform more to Christ and hence to be holy.
5) True experience is characterised by a sense of deep humility and also peace before God's mystery.
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