“God In Us: The Mystical Experience, Part 4”
Text: @Corinthians 13:13
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
Today we are continuing our exploration into what we have been calling mystical experiences. I have shared a few stories with you about times when I have felt the presence of God in an extraordinary way. If you have been looking for some kind of a definition as to what exactly a mystical experience is; that might be one way to define it; feeling the presence of God in an extraordinary way.
But I think there is another definition that is equally valid, but perhaps escapes our thought process because it might lack what we consider to be that extraordinary element. As a matter of fact, it might even be defined as mundane or perhaps routine. But as far as I am concerned, some of these experiences are every bit as valid as being defined mystical as anything I have shared with you thus far. It’s probably not what you are expecting, but bear with me-eventually all this may make sense for you – at least I hope so.
There are experiences in my past which at the time really seemed like no big deal; I’m certain you can think of a few of your own. What seems to happen, at least for me, is the experiences grow in richness and significance with the passage of time. There may be certain moments that you can identify when the significance of some of these past events came into sharper focus for you. In other words, you gained a new perspective or a new appreciation for certain events in your life. I had such a moment, and so we will begin at that point.
About 20 years ago I was in the midst of my seminary education and was also in the midst of trying to complete all the necessary paperwork required to become ordained within the United Methodist Church. We are called Methodists for a reason; and while that reason was originally intended as a teasing label to John Wesley it is still applicable today in many areas. The paperwork that you need to submit to the Board of Ordained Ministry is a shining example of what I’m talking about. One of the many requirements that you must fulfill is a psychological evaluation; you take personality tests, you take competency tests, a host of other tests that I can’t remember what they are called, and you are interviewed by a psychologist. After the tests are all scored, and the interview questions processed and everything is in order, then you meet again with your psychologist for a kind of debriefing. It was during this debriefing session that I had a bit of an “ah-ha” moment with regard to some of the experiences I want to share with you in just a few minutes.
During the debriefing session the psychologist that was working with me referred to my childhood years as “idyllic”. I had to stop her and get clarification. “Did you just say I had an idyllic childhood?” I asked her. “Absolutely” she replied, “the environment that you grew up in couldn’t be improved upon” she went on, “at least that is how it sounded when you talk about it.” “Was there something I missed or something wrong with how you grew up?” she asked me. “No, no” I said, “I just didn’t ever think about it as idyllic.” “Well, maybe you should”, she said.
Wow! That hit me like a ton of bricks. I always sort of knew that my parents and my home experiences were sort of special, but idyllic? I felt a little like someone who dragged a painting they found in their attic to the Antiques Road show and found out it was worth a million dollars. Huh, who knew, right?
But with the passage of time, with the perspective that comes from trying to be a good parent yourself and with the loss that comes with the passing of parents and loved ones, you gain a whole new appreciation for some of the simplest and yet most meaningful events from your past. After 4 or 5 decades they begin to take on certain mystical qualities.
Case in point number one; the 50-cent limit.
I grew up in LeMars, Iowa. It is a sleepy little town of about 8,000 people and not much ever happened there. We were, however, only 25 miles from Sioux City, which by LeMars standards was definitely the big city. As a matter of fact, Sioux City was such a big city that it even had a McDonald’s. But just one-I’m certain there are more today, but this would have been in the early 1960’s.
If I remember correctly, a McDonald’s hamburger was 15 cents, it could be a cheeseburger was 20, an order of French fries was also about 15 cents, a coke was a dime, but a chocolate shake was 25 cents. On rare and special occasions, sometimes after church, if we were good, the entire family would drive to Sioux City and we would have lunch at McDonald’s.
It was a big deal.
But this deal also came with provisions. We could order anything we wanted, but there was a 50-cent limit. You can’t imagine all the figuring that went into what you could and could not order and stay right at the 50-cent limit. You could get two burgers, a fry, and a coke and be under the limit; but if you wanted a shake, one of the burgers or the French fries would have to go. If you wanted cheeseburgers it was even more complicated. You could have two cheeseburgers and a coke, but no fries. You could get one hamburger and one cheeseburger and a shake, but no fries-the number of combinations seemed almost endless. Figuring out the order for lunch occupied the 30-minute ride rather easily as we went from LeMars to Sioux City.
Obviously, the life span of the 50-cent limit was also limited. Prices went up. But the tradition of the 50-cent limit went on for a long enough time to make a mark in my psyche and it left its mark on my siblings as well. We still talk and joke about the 50-cent limit.
It may not seem like a mystical experience to you but it is to me. It wasn’t that the food was that good. It wasn’t that McDonald’s was spectacular in any other way; it actually wasn’t even the event itself. What elevates this to a mystical level is all that it stands for.
It was fun. We had a good time. We were together as a family. We had to be creative. Sometimes we would figure out a way to share so you could get fries and perhaps a taste of the chocolate shake. But most of all it speaks to the creative genius of parents who turned their frugality into an advantage. On teacher’s salaries and five kids to feed it was a 50-cent limit or we ate at home. But it wasn’t ever presented that way. We wouldn’t have had any more fun at the finest dining restaurant in all of Sioux City. The 50-cent limit, a mystical experience you probably didn’t expect.
There are many other stories, most of them involve food or a meal and they all pretty much end up the same way. Passing time and tradition, being with family and loved ones, the sharing of experiences together and the loss of what once was, elevates the mundane to the mystical.
In a few minutes we will be sharing in the sacrament of Holy Communion. For many, the things which created a certain level of mysticism surrounding the 50-cent limit, are also true of the Lord’s Supper. We come together as family, as a community, to share an experience. There is a long history of tradition and the passing of time which has gone before us. We are asked to remember in this ritual the One who once was here among us. In these ways may you experience communion, perhaps for the first time, as a mystical experience.