Thursday, July 28, 2011

Divine Experience as a Growing Phenomenon?

My friend Chris told me a story of an experience hearing voices. Driving on the highway a voice told him to move from the left lane to the right lane. As he looked to his right other cars were in the right lane, and the the voice told him he had time to get over. After the cars passed he pulled into the right hand lane, and immediately blew a tire. Looking back on this experience he was not as much surprised that he heard a voice leading him to right lane and a safe place to have a tire blow-out, but he it blew his mind that he had responded simply and naturally to a voice in his head.

Perhaps where I live, and work (on the North Shore of Boston spending most of my time in Salem, MA) as well as what I do (pastor a church in Witchcity); this influences my experiences with other people over much. In 25 years of pastoring on both coasts of the United States, spending a great deal of time with people from many spiritual traditions and world-views, and traveling with some frequency to the UK, I have seen a increase of what appear to be other-worldly experiences in the lives of the people I know.

This circle of friends includes skeptics, Muslims, Pagans, Christians of conservative and liberal traditions, people of eclectic 'pick and choose' faith systems, Americans, Welsh, English, Native Americans, people from the Middle East and the Far East, politically conservative, politically liberal, socialists, capitalists, anarchists, artists, politicians, scientists, drunkards, drug addicts, sexually promiscuous, gay, straight, teetotalers, soccer moms, traditional "nuclear' families, soldiers, social justice activists, married, divorced, single, those who attend church, and many who feel betrayed by the church.

Strangely, in this wild mix of friends and acquaintances, it is almost in every circle that people are experiencing these "divine interactions" (if that is what we want to call them).

Glenn who has been with The Gathering a couple years now tells a story about sitting on the beach in Antigua at sunrise. Suddenly, a blinding light rose up not from the horizon, but from within him. He lost all sense of time - whether it was a second or a minute he didn't know, but in that flash a sense his own sinfulness followed by the great forgiveness of God were made evident to him.

Glenn was not a follower of Jesus at the time. He is today, and Glenn loves to study the Bible. This phenomenon was his transition to living a life in the spiritual pursuit of Christ.

Phenomenon like this dot the landscape of human experience. Some people like Glenn know what to do with their experiences. Others have these experiences and are confused by them, or are uncertain of their meaning. Others still choose to attribute no meaning to them, but merely chalk them up as a moment of touching the divine.

My limited experience with people from a fairly wide spectrum of religious, ethnic and lifestyle backgrounds leads me to believe that many people from many world-views are currently experiencing spiritual phenomenon, and they are not all sure how to interpret their experiences. This may not be happening more than at any other time in history, and I certainly have no evidence to support such a statement, but I would surmise it could be simply by the fact that the world's population is larger than any previous time.

I think the experience of these phenomenon has ramifications for Christianity, and I will follow this post up with some of those thoughts.

What do you think?


K.W. Leslie said...

I've had those experiences. they're what led me to become Pentecostal.

The folks in my church are wide open to such experiences, so I hear stories of them quite a lot. Of course, we don't experience them more than other Christians; we're just far more apt to share the stories, accept the supernatural, and even seek it out. We could stand to be a little more discerning sometimes, but that's another rant.

In my experience, non-charismatics often find such experiences embarrassing, and don't share them for fear of getting labeled a nut or a sensualist. Been there. Though we Pentecostals have our problems, far more trouble comes when people don't share at all, or are surrounded by cessationists who reject everything supernatural as demonic out of hand.

Dennis Huxley said...

People today are more likely to think of themselves as "spiritual" today than at other times in recent history. Atheism is kind of out of vogue. In the last five years of doing street ministry, I rarely meet people who claim to have no belief in spiritual things. The overwhelming majority of people I talk to claim to be "spiritual, but not religious", and claim no affiliation to an established belief system. So, people are open to spiritual experiences. Some of these experiences could be easily brushed off by folks who had no spiritual awareness. Those who consider themselves spiritual would, I suppose, be desirous of spiritual eperiences (I know I do). I've also noticed that when those without religious affiliation share these experiences with me, the experiences are very personal to them, and they jealously consider them their own. They might not like me messing with their own understanding of them, no matter how vague that understanding may be. I usually ask questions about what they think about their experiences and then try to steer the conversation around that. Dreams are a different story. People are often glad to have someone who can tell them something about their dreams, but I still use questions if I can to guide the conversation into the interpretation. I guess I'm really nervous about being perceived as preachy.

Pastor Phil said...

Hi KW,

I suppose we might be even further challenged to consider the experiences of those who are not Christians. The category we place those experiences into will set the course for our opinions about them.

Pastor Phil said...

Being afraid of being preachy is not a bad thing Dennis. :-)

K.W. Leslie said...

I knew an ex-Wiccan who used to talk to the goddess all the time, and felt the goddess was talking back to her, and learned to trust the goddess's voice. One day she was complaining to the goddess about some Christians, and the goddess responded to her, "Stop complaining and listen to them. Jesus is My Son." Turns out the goddess was God.

That's one of the stranger testimonies I've heard, but it goes to show how people who are on the lookout for spiritual experiences might just bump into God in their search. That's why I don't dismiss what non-Christians have to say, or automatically conclude it's some sort of devilment. God might be in it, or using it for His ends. We have to trust Him for guidance instead of reducing every spiritual story into neat little categories.

Dennis Huxley said...

Phil, thanks for the affirmation, bro. I think aversion to preachiness is justified.
K.W., now that is interesting and worth thinking hard about. Thanks for that.

Pastor Phil said...

That's a fabulous story KW. Thanks for sharing it. It is the same kind of stuff we see in Salem.