“God In Us; The Mystical Experience” – Part One
Text: Acts 17: 27-28
27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’
One of the things I said last week which may have gone by unnoticed was that I often listen to or expose myself to other points of view on purpose. I feel this helps me understand a different perspective or even can lead to other forms of understanding and new ideas. Not everything you find in an environment that is contrary to what you believe is of value, but often there is something of value that you can take with you.
For example, about 40 years ago, I was quite familiar with the ministry of Oral Roberts. Even 40 years ago I knew I didn’t believe or accept much of what was taught by Oral Roberts, but there were a couple of good ideas, at least I thought they were good ideas, which have stuck with me through the years. One idea that I think is valid is that we as human beings can be thought of as having three primary areas of being that we need to pay attention to. We are comprised of a physical body, an intellectual mind, and a spiritual sense. One thing that Oral Roberts spoke often about is the importance of addressing all three areas of our being, the body, mind and spirit. I think this is a valid understanding of who we are as human beings. Another item from the Oral Roberts camp is something you may have heard before, but I think it may have originated with him, although you can never be certain of these things. That item is the saying or mantra; “Expect A Miracle”. Now, bear in mind that my interpretation of what that might mean for me today is very different than what it might have meant for Oral Roberts 40 years ago, but the concept is a valid one. I think we should expect miracles in our lives; and when we expect them and watch for them, they happen. They don’t have to be huge miracles, but once we become aware of them, and comfortable with the idea of calling them miracles, they come around with considerable frequency.
I wanted to bring these two points forward as we begin to speak of a mystical experience. For some of you that have been involved in our book study, this may sound a little familiar because Marcus Borg devotes an entire chapter to mysticism in his book that we are studying. In the book, Borg describes several times when he has personally felt as if he has encountered God in what he describes as a mystical experience. These encounters are so intense and so emotionally moving that they validate for the author the primary existence of God. In other words, because of the power of the mystical experience, Borg knows that God is real. In Borg’s experience, the mystical experiences are few and often separated by years if not decades. In the book, if I remember correctly, he describes only three events that span his entire lifetime.
As is often the case with a mystical experience, they can be hard to describe. A word that Borg uses to define the experience is “ineffable” – which basically means beyond description. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Albert Schweitzer in his book “The Quest for the Historical Jesus” where he describes Jesus as that ineffable mystery that comes to us. Borg also describes the events as often involving luminosity, or special lighting in a natural sense. He talks about the color of the light and the radiance of the light, this kind of thing seems to be common in many mystical experiences. A third element which Borg brings out is that a mystical experience is often linked with a profound sense of knowing; an assurance that what you are seeing and experiencing is Divine in nature and is very real. A fourth common element of the mystical experience for Borg is that they are passive in nature. By this he means that the experiences just show up and the person receives them and there isn’t anything you can do to create them.
Of all the description concerning a mystical experience that Borg offers in his book, I would have to say that I agree with most of it, with the exception of this last part. I don’t believe the mystical experience is nearly as elusive as Borg makes it out to be and I also think that with practice, you can encounter the Divine in a mystical experience with a fair amount of regularity. I believe this to be true for a number of reasons.
One of those reasons stems from personal experiences I have had that are very similar to what Borg has described in his book. What makes my experiences different from what Borg describes is that I in many cases sought out the experience or at the very least, created the environment for the experience to happen. This is where I want to get back to the opening comments I made about Oral Roberts and the two items from him that are still with me today.
First the idea that we as humans are comprised of three major areas of function; the body, the mind and the spirit. Any athlete will tell you that you can train your body and it gets better. You can lose weight, you can get stronger, and you can improve your physical stamina and overall general health. You train your body through your diet and through exercise. When you pay attention to what goes into your body as food and you pay attention to using your muscles and move a little, generally your health improves.
Secondly, if you ask any teacher, they will tell you that it is certainly possible to train your mind. You can learn math or science, you can learn to read and you can learn to speak your native language and some can even learn a foreign language. Some of us have special gifts to train our minds in medicine or economics or philosophy or psychology, but certainly the training of the mind is an accepted aspect of who we are as human beings.
So I have a rather obvious question; if we are comprised of three distinct aspects of being, that is our body, mind and spirit-and it is possible to train the body and train the mind, why should it not be possible to train the spirit? I think it is. We can train the spirit, but it is a discipline not practiced a lot here in the US and not practiced a lot in Christianity as a whole. But it is practiced, and we can do it as well.
I believe we can increase our level of mystical experiences by simply training our minds and creating environments which are conducive to such experiences. This is where the second item from Oral Roberts comes into play, and that is the saying or the mantra of “Expect A Miracle”. You see, that is one way of training your mind, watching for and expecting the Divine in your everyday experience. When we begin to do that, we begin to notice and observe things we may not have noticed before. As Dr. Wayne Dyer liked to say, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”.
I have decided that the concept of the mystical experience is something worth pursuing and something that each of us should have the opportunity to participate in. I often try to create an environment in the worship service where you may encounter the Divine, even if just for a brief few seconds. It may be a chill that runs down your spine, or a feeling of intense joy, or it may just be that feeling of knowing or peace that Borg describes.
But we can do more and I am hopeful I can help you in that pursuit. So over the next few weeks, and I’m not certain how long this will last, I intend to share with you my own personal mystical experiences. I will tell you to the best of my ability what happened, how it happened and what lasting impact the experience has had on my life. So this is could be considered part one of a multi-part sermon series on the mystical experiences of God.
Next week I will begin to share some mystical encounters from my personal life and what you can do to possibly have them in your life as well. So stay tuned as we continue the journey of God in us, the mystical experience.
Go in peace, Amen.