“I experienced God.”
What does that even mean?
Is God a thing to be experienced? Like a Chinese buffet? Or an IMAX movie?
Does it mean that you have physically interacted with God on an empirical level? Did you touch, taste, smell, see, or hear the Lord? If you did, good for you. Not all of us are that fortunate.
Does experiencing God mean that you have that spiritual moment where you finally “feel” God’s presence in the room with you? The moment the spiritual atmosphere was just conductive enough that God decided to come down and see what was going on? Those are pretty nice. I know what that’s like.
Or does experiencing God mean something entirely different? What is the experience? What is God?
Have I ever heard God in the empirical sense? No.
Do I know people who have? Yes.
And I would bet my life on the fact that God, one way or another, was seen and/or heard by them.
What about the spiritual high? Yeah, I’ve been to the Passion Conference, I’ve seen God’s presence move in a crowd. I’ve felt the euphoria of being among a great host of believers. I’ve even had two moments in my life where I have “heard” God speak to me. To this day, I struggle with whether they were real or just my own mental figment.
But what if God doesn’t speak directly to you? What if you have never heard from him in a literal or spiritual sense? It would be easy to dismiss you as not a true Believer. I have even heard a more Charismatic friend of mine say that if you don’t Speak in Tongues, then you have no connection to the Holy Spirit and therefore, are not a Christian. His standard demands both an empirical and spiritual requirement to be fulfilled, so what hope do I have?
Its frustrating, not being able to have this experience that everyone else seems to be able to joyfully speak of. It would be so easy to fake it; to make up some story where you had a “Mountain top experience”; to raise your hands; to speak in Tongues.
And if you don’t fake it, what is the alternative? Tell the truth? Because that goes over well in the Christian community. You fear that you’ll be shamed for not seeking out God hard enough, or you are not in tune to such Holy things because you are not a true follower of Christ. Its a legitimate fear.
So instead of the Sunday morning experience being a time to joyfully worship God with the Body of Christ, it becomes a anxiety producing ritual of constant disappointment and shame.
Peter Rollins talks about this in his book: Insurrection.
“Here religious practices such as prayer, worship, service to the poor, and fasting are seen as able to bring us into direct contact with God, leaving the other times in our life less meaningful and establishing a distinction between sacred and secular. In addition to this, there are numerous people who affirm the view that God can be encountered here and now, yet who experience nothing. It is always the person to their left or right who is feeling the power of the Spirit or hearing the divine voice. For these people, even the places where God is supposed to show up become sites of disappointment.”
Insurrection: To Believe Is Human To Doubt, Divine (p. 116)
The Western Church loves nothing more than the active and overt participation in the God experience. Not only that, but we also demand the same of our God. God must be in the sacred places, and in the sacred people, and in the sacred actions, so that I can go there, and become that person, and do that thing. We say that God is in the Holy of Holies, and that only the High priests can speak to Him. Which is exactly the opposite of what Jesus Christ showed us.
Jesus Christ; God incarnate, came down in the most empirical fashion possible, and didn’t go to those most holy. He went to those considered the least holy. He sought out those who were considered the last kind of people who were seeking God. This is why God can talk to an atheist and not a Christian; or Heal a Muslim Imam, but not the Baptist Pastor.
We would like to believe that experiencing God is exclusive to the Christian community, but its not.
But even our active, overt view of what experience is is lacking. We have lost the other half of the equation.
So we must look to the East. What is there, that is not here?
If I said meditation, red-flags are going to go flying, so let’s use contemplation instead. This is a little thing I picked up from Richard Rohr that I plan on practicing in earnest over Lent, and hopefully beyond. Its the idea of stopping and thinking. Not actively. Just letting yourself go; Letting yourself BE; Just existing.
Because that’s the other part that we don’t consider: we don’t just BE. Which is a shame, because yes, God is active in His creation, and maybe just to me, its overt, but He is also existing, and His existence; His BE-ING, is what allows all of creation, including ourselves, to BE. So, in bearing His image isn’t BE-ing not the very way you constantly experience God? In the very act of existence, you are in contact with His presence.
It’s not overt or active; It’s subtle and passive. You don’t choose to experience God; you are constantly experiencing God. But it’s subtle enough that unless you seek it, you wouldn’t know He’s even there.
The active and passive experience of God can still be married though. They aren’t exclusive. The Western Church just forgot how to teach how to experience God. Because of this, you only “feel” God in the Worship service, or in intense Prayer. Eastern beliefs shed light on the idea of maintaining that connected-ness t0 God, while not having to go
Being in a place that has bright lights or low lights; upbeat music or just the wind; a crowd or solitude; the Bible or just a good book, all of these are conductive, but not to everyone. Not everyone rides the spiritual high in Church, nor should they. There should not be an exclusivity to God’s presence in a certain building or a certain day. If the only time you have an encounter with God is in a church, I would probably be more worried that I don’t experience Him anywhere else but there. God is not to be solely experienced in the things we deem sacred: The Bible Study, the Retreat, the Sermon, The Prayer; God also is also experienced in the secular: Beer with friends after work, and the small chat with the Starbucks Barista, and the Business meeting that went too long, and the death of your newborn, and in consoling your neighbor after their husband died, and feeding the homeless man on the street corner.
We have this consumerist view that experiencing God is all about Him giving us the experience, and us, taking something away from it. But what if it’s not that at all?
What if its about giving? Like how Jesus gave himself. He gave his life on earth, and every part of what that entails, to people, and asked for nothing in return. That’s real self-sacrifice that truthfully makes no sense. Why would you do something, for nothing? Why would I help out a widow, when they contribute nothing to me or society? Why would I create something out of nothing?
Maybe its something that is prompted by nothingness. Maybe its Love.
That’s experiencing God. Isn’t it?
P.S.- There is a part two to this that just takes a lot of what I said and just flips it all on its head. So keep reading for that stunning conclusion here.