Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Authentic God Experience
I make no secret that I'm a huge fan of Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, contemplative, and mystic. And one thing Rohr talks about often is "authentic God experience." I recently spoke to a local youth group on the topic and as I was preparing that talk I realized Scripture is full of authentic God experiences. That's almost the whole thing!
I think we can define that term with various languages - "touching heaven", "Divine Union," "understanding Reality," "the kingdom," etc. But the important thing to say is that these are moments, maybe many or maybe only a few in your lifetime, when you encounter God in a way that deeply unseats you and your false self. That's the best way I can describe it today. And we have examples of this in Scripture.
Moses and the burning bush is one of the most timeless. Here was someone running from his past, from guilt, living in his false self, (and not possessing a mature faith in God by the way) who nevertheless encountered God and came away an utterly changed person. God spoke to Moses' inmost being and completely converted his consciousness through the burning bush. And it's partly so inspiring because Moses' religious tradition and language in no way prepared him for his own experience of God. But he trusted it anyway! How many of us are prepared to trust an experience of God if it clashes with our religious parameters or allegiances?
Figures like Hannah have completely different authentic God experiences, at least visibly. Hannah wants a child partly as a way of not being shamed but also because it happens to be her heart's desire. Eventually she conceives. She knows that this is God and you can sense her joy when reading her story. How many of her peers would've believed that she was touched by God at that moment? How many people would think that God would take the form of an everyday pregnancy or a plant on fire?
And that's the point of the experience: it's for you. It has four qualities in my mind: it's Valid, Unique, Trustworthy, and Converting.
Valid because it's God initiating these. Having a moment where you realize, experientially, something of who God is is just so life-giving. All of a sudden you know that God is real and it's a beautiful world and God's in it and you're in it and God really is Love and what joy truly means and that it's a benevolent universe. You just know that you know that you know, and no one cane take it away from you.
These experiences are unique because they never look the same for two people. This is part of the beauty of being created uniquely by a Loving God. No one else can fully interpret the meaning of your authentic God experience - only you can fully realize that. These experiences are trustworthy, even when others doubt God's hand in it. If it's real, you'll know it. And authentic God experiences are conversion experiences because you walk away fundamentally changed. We're not talking about changing your religious creed here. We're talking about changing your perception.
Like Saul, you're shown something greater that converts you to a new mindset (even to a new, literal identity as "Paul"). And by virtue of being shown something so great, you see how dim the false things really are. You see reality - existence as it truly is.
We can't manufacture these experiences. Like grace, you just have to fall into it. It's a gift. But these gifted moments will feel as if they propel you toward a new mindset, a new understanding, and toward a new trust.
This was one of my less coherent posts, partly because I'm still exploring the concept and partly because I'm at a loss for words to convey my own experience. For that, I apologize. But please leave a comment with your thoughts or your own experience.