Monday, August 01, 2011

Spiritual Phenomenon and Religious Bias

My personal story of initiation into spiritual phenomenon taints my own views of the activity of the Spirit, and presses these views toward a more open interaction from God with humanity. Because I had what I believe are dramatic encounters with God prior to committing my life and my life's work to His purposes, I am convinced that God is acting in other people's lives in a similar manner.

This conviction is formed through a number of reasons:

Reason #1 - I am not special.

There is nothing which separates me from the rest of humanity. I am not special to God anymore than anyone else. I do not hold some special key to the Kingdom, nor do I have access to things unavailable to others. At least I certainly don't think so. The rest of humanity stands on even footing with myself, and are limping lamely together toward glory: some of us purposefully, some of us stubbornly, some of us ignorantly, some of us turning to flee it's fearsome brilliance, but all of us beginning with the same love of God hovering over us.

God is equally determined to express His love to you as He is to me, and I am convinced He is in the process of doing so regularly.

Reason #2 - I did not learn special skills to attain these phenomenal* spiritual experiences.

My experiences happened to me. I did not enter a state of meditation to attain them. I did not study for years to attain a spiritual skill making these experiences possible. I may have been a seeker of truth, but not any more so than many others. God came to me in my searching.

In believing I am not any more special to God than anyone else it levels the playing field and makes God accessible to everyone. By acknowledging the simple fact that it was not my own skills which brought about my experiences, but rather that it was God's loving pursuit of me, this also levels the playing field. A person does not need to be especially skilled in the arts of spiritual discipline to experience God. There is a loving God Who desires to make Himself known to all of us, and His desire is with equal passion toward all of us.

Reason #3 - I did not express special commitment.

My commitment to the God Who came to me did not precede the experiences, but rather followed them. He appears to have sought me out more intentionally than I sought Him. Because of this, I am convinced that the experience of (what I believe are) legitimate spiritual phenomena does not always come with disciplined pursuit, and intentionality. I believe there are times that misdirected pursuit somehow finds the mark of the Divine, because God steps in to make Himself known. This was my experience, and I believe that it is often true for many others.

These basic values I take away from my experiences with spiritual phenomena set the stage for my missiological praxis, and my response to a world of people who experience things which "Blow [their] mind." It is my hope that my views, which are a response from both scripture and experience give me a bias favoring all people, and not simply those who are of my tribe and committed to Christ in the same manner that I am. It is my hope to base my opinion about the spiritual experiences of others on the merit of the experience alone, and not on heritage, learning, a perceived special status with God, or stated commitment to Christianity.

Have you had experiences which have blown your mind?

* this word is used in the sense of being cognizable to the senses.


Liz said...

I have. And like you, Phil, I have met many people from all walks of life who have also had them... an ex-con who spent 25 years of his life in prison, who looked through his prison bars one day and suddenly knew that there was a God and that he was loved - from being illiterate, he went on to gain a degree and advise on social work at the highest levels; another ex-prisoner who had also spent most of his life in prison, and who one day, completely crushed, shouted at the light bulb (he had heard that God was light..) that if there was a god, to make his presence known - he did...; a strongly-atheist in-law who came back from a visit to the Grand Canyon somehow changed, and told me with tears in his eyes that no-one could make that trip and not understand that there is a creator God... a Rosicrucian who believed that what he called 'the fear factor' was the price you paid to encounter a supernatural reality, until the day he felt the undeniably supernatural presence of Jesus at his side - with no fear factor. Recently, a friend led a workshop on angels at a Body Mind Spirit festival held by a cathedral to engage with spiritual searchers. He just relayed his personal angelic experiences, and those of a couple of close friends. After which he told the room filled with people from a wide range of beliefs and spiritualities that he usually finds that one in ten people have angelic encounters - and asked for people to share their own experiences. They kept coming - amazing 'blow your mind'-type experiences from people from every walk of life who were so pleased to be in an environment where they could admit to these things...

Pastor Phil said...

Thanks for the stories Liz. I have heard a number of these myself, and because of my own experiences I am not willing to judge those who experience these things as someone needing professional counseling. I wonder where I world would be today if Saul of Tarsus, or Jesus Himself took medication to silence the voices of the Spirit?

K.W. Leslie said...

I've had a few mind-blowing experiences. Many are the typical far-too-coincidental-to-be-coincidence sort, from instances of remarkable timing, to prophets who I was completely skeptical about who turned out to really hear God. In the last decade, though, they've been the prophetic sort. People who hear from God will confirm to me that I've heard from God; and I will do the same for them.

What still bugs me is when it happens unintentionally on my part. I'll just be jabbering on, and I'll tell them something that God recently showed me. I won't come right out and tell them it's from Him; I don't name-drop God, and besides, there's always the chance that it's my subconscious and not really Him. Of course, when it's Him, it invariably floors them. The usual reaction is "Who told you that?!"

Thing is, I've got a lot of those ideas (understandably) knocking around my brain, and every once in a while I'll mention one of them in passing, and once again, it floors people. It doesn't bug me that God does it; I'm happy to do whatever I can for Him. What bugs me is that (1) it completely interrupts the conversation—I was making a point, dangit!—and (2) all those reasons you listed in this post: I frequently have to explain that no, I am not some extra-holy prophet and now they have to remove their shoes. I'm a man, a sloppy follower of Jesus just like them, who is so self-centered that I look on this act of God's grace as an interruption. And (3) it reminds me of my own unworthiness.

Anybody who finds themselves working in the supernatural who doesn't feel humbled by it, hasn't got their heads screwed on right.

Pastor Phil said...

But are you surprised that people don't have their heads screwed on right? :-)

Anonymous said...

I have had about a dozen, as i reflect back on the years.

When I am upset, lightbulbs begin to blow around me and electrical appliances fail.

And once (and I have a witness to this), I was in a bar in allston. It was summer, and typical of that area, there was an electrical brownout.

A giddy feeling rose up inside of me that if i clapped my hand something cool would happen.

I said to my girlfriend at the time, "watch this." Clapped my hands.

At that moment, Allston, Brighton, and a huge swatch of Cambridge blacked out.

I can have my girlfriend at the time come over here and testify to this :)

-- chris reiss

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Chris,

You do seem to have a remarkable number of wild things happening around you. My favorite is your story about walking the dog and the cross in the road.

Liz said...

I love the fact that God ignores our spiritual compartmentalising of people... an academic theologian friend told me that a few months back he was in a 'stuffy' men-in-grey-suits type Christian meeting in a church, when one of the men suddenly started seeing angels everywhere in the church building, and began to point them out, including one apparently standing just behind my friend - ten feet tall and wearing a yellow bullet-proof vest! My friend didn't comment, but acknowledged to me that he could probably keep someone like that pretty busy. A few months later he wandered into a New Age bookstore to research something for a missiological course he was teaching, and struck up a conversation with the owner. As he drifted off to look at the books, she called after him: 'You do realise you didn't come in here alone? You brought an angel in with you - he's ten feet tall and is wearing a yellow bullet-proof vest...

Pastor Phil said...

I love that crazy story Liz - thanks.