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What are your most profound or memorable spiritual experiences?

Currently in our Wednesday Night Family Night’s we are exploring and discussing spiritual experiences, using as a resource The Varieties of Spiritual Experience: 21st Century Research and Perspectives by research scientists David Yaden and Andrew Newberg.

What are the varieties?  There are experiences of the presence of God, called “numinous experiences.”  The revelatory kind–epiphanies, visions, calls, hearing voices.  There are synchronicity experiences, where one feels patterns of meaning in what otherwise might be coincidences or random events.  There are mystical experiences.  And aesthetic experiences of awe or the sublime, which occur in nature or in response to a work of art or piece of music.  Finally, there are also paranormal experiences.

Which types have you had?

I’ve always felt that my spiritual experiences are pretty central and vital to my faith, and why I could never lose my faith altogether.  I’ve had enough moments where I felt the presence of God or a connection to something greater and other.  There are a few that stand out.

At times in my life I’ve had a regular spiritual practice of meditation and contemplation.  When I’m really in the flow of such experiences, my imagination takes over and I experience warmth and vitality coming from God.  Often for me the environment is Narnia and God come in the form of Aslan the lion.  Sometimes I’m lying under a tree in the most beautiful of landscapes, being snuggled by God in this lion form.  Other times I’m riding the lion as we race across the landscape (itself an image from the novels) with the wind blowing in my hair and the sun warming my body.  I think all of this is rooted in the almost spiritual experience I had reading the “Farther Up, Farther In” chapter of The Last Battle in sixth grade.

Back in college I had a profound experience at the Vatican, which was definitely odd for a then Southern Baptist kid.  We had spent two weeks in Israel on a study tour, an experience full of much learning and eye-opening, but I was disappointed that in Israel I never had any revelatory spiritual experience.  We spent four days in Rome at the end of the trip.  On a Sunday morning I went to worship at St. Peter’s.  It was a baptismal service, with probably fifty Italian babies in their beautiful gowns being baptized by Pope John Paul II.  Though the service was in Italian, I knew enough of the liturgy to understand most of it, except the sermon.  And then I took communion.  In that moment I saw in my mind’s eye again the place we had been just a few days before where Jesus tells Peter that he is the rock upon which the church will be founded.  And other images from my time in Israel played across my mind.  And the images of all the apostles and saints surrounding me in that moment.  For a small town Oklahoma Southern Baptist boy, the revelation was a richer understanding of the church universal and the meaning of communion.  And probably one reason I shifted to believing in open communion and ecumenism.

The most powerful religious experience I ever had I’ve talked and written about before.  On the night my father had his heart attack and died, I was 16 and only a week before had been licensed to the Gospel ministry.  I was angry at God and stepped outside to let him have it (I would have said “him” at the time).  My actual words were a blasphemous curse–I damned God to hell.  The moment in my life I have felt the farthest from God and faith.  And, yet, immediately I had what was almost a physical experience of God wrapping me in God’s arms and holding me as close as possible.  And I broke down weeping.  The paradox of the moment has always been so fascinating to me–that the moment of greatest distance was the moment I felt closest to God.

It is these experiences, and others like them, that sustain my faith and spiritual practice.

Again, what are your most profound and memorable spiritual experiences?


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