Saturday, January 23, 2021

Mystical Experience

I don't have much appetite for mystical experience myself, which is likely at least part of the reason why I am so suspicious of it. I acknowledge that mysticism has an honored tradition in much of the Christian Church. While this is most prominent in the Roman Catholic and even more, the Eastern Orthodox churches, it is not confined to those.  Western Europe and its descendants have less of this than other places in the world, but Puritan diaries record raptures and visions, and even Scandinavia his its Pietists and Swedenborgians. Also many modern evangelical writers and many of my friends will describe times at prayer in which they felt the presence of God strongly, and even felt that God was revealing his will to them by affirming one set of thoughts over another as they were in prayer.  I have had this happen myself, but it is rare. 

It is likely rare because I do not seek it, yet I know enough to give a small piece of advice. Jesus told us to count the cost, and to my mind one of the meanings of this is to imagine and weigh the possible consequences of taking a job or not, of marrying or not, of giving money to Peter or to Paul. Sometimes, when we have done so and then approach God in prayer, the answer comes quickly.  But I am no expert.

Why do I not seek it?  Because I have seen mystical answers fail about as often as I have seen them work. Evangelical writers talking about discerning the will of God tend strongly to narrow to examples of "there were naysayers who said we shouldn't build that building but we did and it worked and that proves we have faith and followed God, " or similarly "I wondered if God was calling me to this location to start/revive/rescue this church and we went from 50 worshipers to 825 which proves that God was leading me in this." Maybe so, but the people that this worked for write the books. That's a highly biased sample. Those closed churches that get turned into restaurants or martial arts studios thought the same thing at one point in their history, but somehow it didn't work out.

I have seen people strike out on their own to become self-employed because they felt God didn't want them "working for the world" anymore, and people who moved to other states and had their savings, their dreams, their marriages crushed. They weren't any less spiritual than the ones who preen - and yes, you are preening if you write about your success no matter how many times you say "I give all the glory to my Lord Jesus."  If you were giving all the glory, few would know you were much involved.

Yet there is another, deeper reason why I don't trust this.  The most notable practitioners openly say how much similarity they find in the experiences and even the teachings of non-Christian mystics. A Christian friend is reading a popular modern mystic, and looking him up, he is standard New Age, not very interesting to my mind.  His teachings are not Christian, even though he sometimes quotes the Bible.  He eventually gets to feelings of Oneness, that everything is interconnected, that we are at peace when we recognise this inner harmony - because that's what they always say.  It has nothing to do with Christianity. But there are Christians who are fond of mysticism themselves who applaud this, because they think it is a healthy thing for Christians to learn this sort of mysticism. I have names in mind, past and present, but am trying not to distract by getting into individual personalities.  I think my observation applies generally, I am simply noting that I do have actual examples.

I simply cannot follow them there. Tash has nothing to do with Aslan. I am not denying that the mystical experience in different religions is similar.  Humans have a limited set of bodily responses and the fMRI of a person receiving a word from God or a word from the Devil might look the same. This is precisely why I do not trust such things. 

I find I said something similar in 2015.  GK Chesterton and Bernie Sanders are included.


james said...

Could any mystical experience compare to actually walking with Jesus and having Him explain things to you? And yet that didn't work out so well for one guy.

Ron said...

Don't blame the Teacher. "Evil is the inevitable darkness which follows upon the heels of the unwise rejection of light."

Texan99 said...

I wouldn't claim to have experienced what people seem to mean by mystical experiences. I can say that there are times when my conscience speaks so clear and loud that it's as if God were shouting in my face, practically daring me to pretend I didn't know what was happening.

james said...

Does an epiphany count as a mystical experience? When I was 16 and searching, I realized, with a clarity I'd never had before and have never had since, that everything made sense with Jesus.

Grim said...

It might, James. All that matters is the direct experience of the ultimate.

The Zen Buddhists do it well; the best among them will tell you that it's impossible to know if you've had a mystical experience or not, because if you have all the walls will have collapsed. If you get there you wouldn't know it; there would be no difference between subject and object, between the observer and the observed. All would be lost. Since you can't say if that ever happened, you can only practice; you can't claim you succeed.

Lesser traditions end up breaking things that matter. Sufi Islam, for example, ends up losing what was great in Averroes; but they don't bring anything better about. Maybe they bring something worse, because rationality washes out of the faith in favor of a limited direct experience of God.

james said...

WRT Zen, I've always wondered: if Buddha is dreaming, isn't is presumptuous to try to wake him up?

Grim said...

"If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him." Waking him up surely isn't any worse.