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Experiencing God


GeorgeW
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I hope this will be received as an invitation to dialog and understanding as opposed to debate. It is not intended negatively or as a challenge to any one's faith.

 

I have been reading a lot here about 'experiencing' God vs. 'reasoning' to God. My question is, how do we determine if an experience is authentic (meaning a real experience of the divine).

 

Some instances could be imagined under conditions of emotion or contagion. As an example, people who speak in tongues, I think, typically do so during a religious service, not when they are eating a burger at MacDonald's or watching a football game. The format of some religious services are, I suspect, designed to induce emotion and, perhaps, contagion. Native Americans would have spiritual experiences after a period in a sweat lodge. Sufis have spiritual experiences following (induced by?) periods of chanting. In fact, it has been self described as 'intoxicated.'

 

I don't think anyone would claim that all experiences of God are authentic as there are people who perceive that god is telling them to commit heinous acts like the mentally disturbed lady in Texas a few years ago who killed several of her young children under a perceived instruction from God.

 

Having said this, I certainly have no objection to spiritual experiences as long as they are benign or beneficial. But, how do we determine if it is authentic, emotion or imagination? Does it matter?

 

George

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I hope this will be received as an invitation to dialog and understanding as opposed to debate. It is not intended negatively or as a challenge to any one's faith.

 

I have been reading a lot here about 'experiencing' God vs. 'reasoning' to God. My question is, how do we determine if an experience is authentic (meaning a real experience of the divine).

 

(snip)

 

George

 

 

Hi George,

 

While i certainly can't speak for the "we" part of your question on how it is determined whether an experience is authentic, i would be willing to share my own view and experience on the question. First i can not say whether anothers experience is authentic or not, i can only apply what i have learned and make a somewhat educated guess in those cases. For myself, i find that the experience validity is NOT based on emotions though emotions may be present. It is not based on reason or logic, though reasoning and logic may be present. It is not based on feelings though inevitably feelings will be present. For me, an authentic experience is self-evident without words though words may come to mind. It is more of a deep 'knowing' without a shadow of doubt though doubt may later appear. It is a 'knowing' by virtue of being and realizing oneness with the known and is inexplicable in words. There is nothing to prove nor is proof possible. There is nothing to defend nor is defense possible.

 

That's my take George,

 

Joseph

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This is a really interesting topic, George and thank you Joseph for your comment. As one who was deeply involved with the charismatic movement in the 70s, I undersand what you say about the use of tongues in meetings. However, in recent years, a million miles away from the fundamentalist/charismatic me, I still find I can speak in tongues. It happens quite spontaneously, usually during an overflow of joy. A spiritual experience? I'd like to think so.

 

I agree with Joseph. I don't think we can't define an experience of God in the same way we can experience of, say, a knickerbockerglory. Maybe, it's like love. When you're in love, you know it but when it comes to expressing the experience even the poets run out of words. What I find though, is that all of those I know who have had an experience of what we term God, of whatever persuasion, express it, albeit inadequately, in similar terms. We know what we mean when we try to explain to each other, though someone without the expeience probably wouldn't.

 

One thing that helped me recently was the series on www.evolutionarychristianity.com. Through listening to serveral of the participants I got a fuller realisation that, since whatever it is we refer to as 'God' is continuously enabling the whole process of the creation coming into being, then that enabling is taking place in me all the time. In other words, it's impossible for me not to experience God because my existence moment by moment is totally and untterly dependent on God's grace. My experience of peace, love and joy are of that same enabling - "In him we live and move and have our being". (Also my negative experiences, I should add.) Maybe all it takes to realise (make real) an experience of what is already actual, is a change of mind or what Jesus called 'metanoia'.

 

Brian

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There is nothing to prove nor is proof possible. There is nothing to defend nor is defense possible.

 

Joseph

 

Joseph,

 

I am sorry, this is what I really had hoped to avoid. I did not intend to put anyone on the defensive.

 

George

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Hi,

 

only read the OP. and nothing in between :)

 

As an example, people who speak in tongues,

 

Andrew Newberg found that the brains scans of a woman speaking in tongues had many similarities with an atheist and a Buddhist monk who had been practicing meditation for decades. While this is science the experience is subjective.

 

I am bipolar and have had a number of religious epiphanies. Reading that Dr. Jamison (sp?), severely bipolar herself and author of "Unquiet Mind", felt that from her long experience in emergency rooms, she could recognize the difference between drug induced mania and that in a bipolar mania by the religious content and the need to share the message, has been a difficulty for me in the last year or so. What I do know is that contemporaneously with and following the events, I made the meaning after event by walking and talking--it became, at the time. part of my witness, an effective witness. Some people, admittedly, probably took a step back. But i have the effect occasionally even when I am on meds. :P

 

I have had non-bipolar induced experiences of feeling one-with-[ ]. As I said, I have read no other comments so I don't know where this falls in the conversation. I am only responding the quote above and am not interested in discussing the topic.

 

speaking from my experience,

 

Take Care

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Joseph,

 

I am sorry, this is what I really had hoped to avoid. I did not intend to put anyone on the defensive.

 

George

 

 

George,

 

Perhaps i have done a poor job in communicating to illicit this response from you. In context i was sharing 'a personal experience' and i certainly have nothing to defend to be getting defensive. I speak only for myself. Your question was a really good one in my opinion and no harm was done in the least.

 

Joseph

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Now that I have had a chance to cool off --

 

Years ago I would have made similar comments to those in the OP but I have come to the conclusion that experience is experience, unquestionably subjective. After the experience we make the meaning by walking and talking.

 

Take Care

 

Dutch

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Now that I have had a chance to cool off --

 

Years ago I would have made similar comments to those in the OP but I have come to the conclusion that experience is experience, unquestionably subjective. After the experience we make the meaning by walking and talking.

 

Take Care

 

Dutch

 

 

Dutch,

 

I am genuinely sorry that I may have caused a reaction that would require cooling off. I am afraid that I may have touched some sensitive nerves in this. I can assure you it was inadvertent.

 

BTW, what is OP?

 

George

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George I feel my soul is a resident in a beautifully designed mind, which needs reasoning and a well-constructed physical body. In my worldly consciousness my mind only knows the outside of the home, the veneer of the body. If the ego continually directs the mind to the outside, my senses continually run around and about in service of the ego as it forgets the inner altar and the home of the soul. If the manipulation is long, the altar of the soul gets covered with the cobwebs of ignorance so in time it becomes hard for my mind to enjoy the peace and joy of the pure spirit. Tearing myself away from my self-created destiny, I can regain peace in the midst of my many activities if I again direct my mind to the center of my being, my soul and God's pure consciousness. In this way I can test my reasoning and experience. Reasoning that is correct satisfies my mind because it is leads to the spiritual experience that brings peace internally that is then reflected outside.

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I have been reading a lot here about 'experiencing' God vs. 'reasoning' to God. My question is, how do we determine if an experience is authentic (meaning a real experience of the divine).

George,

 

I don't think we can interrogate another's experience without their cooperation and avoid judgment. God is that/who we can not access with language. We are making it all up after we say, "Wow," "Awesome." It is reasonable to interrogate our own experiences of [ ], but I don't think we can interrogate another's experience. We can interrogate what comes out their experience. For example, I believe in prophets who see new horizons for human experience and action. My evaluation is of their words and actions, not their experience. It doesn't matter if it was authentic. They are making it the source of authentic living.

 

Cut n paste

 

[Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali (1058-1111)] fell into a clinical depression. ... Fearing that he was in danger of hellfire if he did not recover his faith, [he] resigned his prestigious academic post and went off to join the Sufis.

 

There he found what he was looking for. Without abandoning his reason, al-Ghazzali discovered that the mystical disciplines yielded a direct but intuitive sense of something that could be called "God." [He had some distrust of the Sufism but]... after living ten years as a Sufi, al-Ghazzali found that the religious experience was the only way of verifying a reality that lay beyond the reach of human intellectual and cerebral process.

 

History of God, K. Armstrong

 

Although he had some doubts and distrust he interrogated his own experience.

 

Yes it was a sensitive topic because it seemed to call for an evaluation of another's experience. With some pain, I have interrogated my own.

 

Take Care

 

Dutch

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I feel everyone will have a different experience beyond the mind. You are right, I can't judge another person's spiritual experience, but I can tell from the actions and compassion to others if the experience leads to a legitimate end. I would say legitimate end for me to follow or ignore. I still can't judge nor do I want to spend energy doing so, but I can make a rational decision if that experience will benefit, harm or do nothing to help me.

I feel my unique spiritual experience, I rationalize to make sense to my mind so that it will be quiet enough to let the spirit shine through inducing another experience beyond the mind.

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I feel everyone will have a different experience beyond the mind. You are right, I can't judge another person's spiritual experience, but I can tell from the actions and compassion to others if the experience leads to a legitimate end. I would say legitimate end for me to follow or ignore. I still can't judge nor do I want to spend energy doing so, but I can make a rational decision if that experience will benefit, harm or do nothing to help me.

I feel my unique spiritual experience, I rationalize to make sense to my mind so that it will be quiet enough to let the spirit shine through inducing another experience beyond the mind.

 

Soma,

 

A couple of points. First, I would not use the word "judge" here as this implies some kind of value judgement. My question was about distinguishing the authentic from emotion, imagination or whatever.

 

Second, as I said, I have no objection to any spiritual experience (authentic or whatever) as long as it is beneficial or benign.

 

Similarly, I have heard people criticize traditional Christians for petitionary prayer. However, even if there is no active divine being to respond, I see no harm. And, there is possible good in giving a sense of comfort and doing something in a situation over which one has no meaningful control.

 

George

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Soma,

A couple of points. First, I would not use the word "judge" here as this implies some kind of value judgement. My question was about distinguishing the authentic from emotion, imagination or whatever.

George

 

I feel to distinguish the authentic from emotion, imagination or whatever, one needs to make a judgement. It is a kind of naming and categorizing the experience and are only perspectives. Is there a need to attach the mind to any perspective and to make it a part of one's identity.

 

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. – Mark Twain

 

Good judgments in science give accurate predictions and in the same way bad judgments yield inaccurate predictions. I would say this is one way to see if they are authentic experiences or imagination, but I feel it is better to enjoy the cake instead of trying to figure out the ingredients while eating it. If one is thinking is it real vanilla or imitation then the experience is not complete because the mind is busy analyzing.

 

That which is false troubles the heart, but truth brings joyous tranquility. - Rumi

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It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. – Mark Twain

 

Good judgments in science give accurate predictions and in the same way bad judgments yield inaccurate predictions. I would say this is one way to see if they are authentic experiences or imagination, but I feel it is better to enjoy the cake instead of trying to figure out the ingredients while eating it. If one is thinking is it real vanilla or imitation then the experience is not complete because the mind is busy analyzing.

 

That which is false troubles the heart, but truth brings joyous tranquility. - Rumi

 

Soma,

 

I am confused about what you are saying. First, the Twain quote suggests that knowing the truth is dangerous. And, you add to this with the cake metaphor, suggesting that thinking about whether something is true spoils the experience (presumably if done simultaneously). Then, you quote Rumi suggesting that knowing the truth is beneficial which seems to contradict the previous points.

 

I think that overall you are proposing that one not should not examine this particular question. If so, I am willing to drop the subject. But, it is my belief that knowledge is generally preferable to ignorance. Maybe, this is one of those exceptions.

 

George

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George,

 

This conversation too hot for me to continue without feeling disconnected from you.

 

 

Take Care

 

Dutch

 

Dutch, I am sorry, again. This seems to be a subject that is too sensitive to be examined objectively and dispassionately. I had decided to drop it, but responded to other comments.

 

George

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Soma,

 

I am confused about what you are saying. First, the Twain quote suggests that knowing the truth is dangerous. And, you add to this with the cake metaphor, suggesting that thinking about whether something is true spoils the experience (presumably if done simultaneously). Then, you quote Rumi suggesting that knowing the truth is beneficial which seems to contradict the previous points.

 

I think that overall you are proposing that one not should not examine this particular question. If so, I am willing to drop the subject. But, it is my belief that knowledge is generally preferable to ignorance. Maybe, this is one of those exceptions.

 

George

 

 

George,

 

It seems to me you may not be reading Soma's response as written. The Twain quote in my view in no way says that knowing truth is dangerous as you might suppose. It says that what is dangerous is thinking you know something is true for sure that really isn't true. (ain't so) This is not contradictory to the Rumi quote.

 

Also the cake metaphor was to me clearly just the way Soma personally felt about not mentally evaluating the experience during the experience. It makes sense to me. He didn't say it was wrong or pass judgement on one who did but used the words that said he felt it was better (his opinion)to enjoy the experience while it was happening.

 

I do not think there is anything wrong with discussing this subject. Dutch is fine, knows his own limitations or comfort zone on the subject and merely has set his own limit for his participation in the discussion. He is being very honest with you and no harm has been done. Perhaps there is no need to be sorry for discussing your thoughts on the subject matter. Others may enjoy hearing all positions. That's what this forum is here for.

 

Joseph

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It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. – Mark Twain

 

Joseph explained this much better than I can. My explanation will probably cause more problems. Do you know the Truth or do you open up to the Truth? I feel we can make God laugh by telling Him/Her we know the Truth. Theologian G.K. Chesterton said, "Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly" --while devils and demons fell from Grace into the hell-states due to the "heaviness" of their pride. We might think we know the Truth, the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth, but do we? So much sorrow and grief has been cause by people who think they know the Truth.

 

I feel it is better to enjoy the cake instead of trying to figure out the ingredients while eating it. If one is thinking is it real vanilla or imitation then the experience is not complete because the mind is busy analyzing.

 

My wife a trained musician, but when analyzing each note of a song she misses the total experience of tone and mood that those notes bring.

 

That which is false troubles the heart, but truth brings joyous tranquility. - Rumi

 

I feel we can trust God, Truth and love. They will be effective whether we think they are true or not, or whether we are conscious of them or not. We just need to follow what we think is True. If there is a need we can judge the results from our own experience. I don't see the point in worrying or wondering whether an experience is real or imaginary. In my mind the universe is an infinite harmony of different energies in an elaborate range of different spiritual experiences. I feel everyone has the experiences and perceptions appropriate to the spiritual level they are at. I feel we got where we are by our own decisions to expand in love or to withdraw from it so we are exactly where we are suppose to be. In my case, I feel being aware is more productive than drawing a line and putting real and imaginary on different sides.

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Brian,

 

Thanks for your comments. Are some people are more psychologically inclined to be 'spiritual' than others? Does some kind of training, conditioning, etc., enhance or facilitate the experience?

 

George

 

Interesting point,George. I think we have to be 'up for it'. This is a primary openness or maybe what Brian Swimme calls 'allurement' (The Universe is a Green Dragon). Campbell suggests that our brains are 'reducing machines' which pull in information from around us and make sense of it. Some brains are better at that than others. It's a matter of genetic inheretence, environmental conditioning, culture etc. So maybe some people are more psychologically inclined to be 'spiritual' than others - that's certainly a difference between me and my wife. Swami Saraswati says of compassion, it's like swimming. You can't learn it by lying on a table and waving your arms around. You have to get in the water and swim - you have to get into life and 'compassionate'.

 

Maybe to over analyse it is to lose it. If I sit and wonder whether it's really love I experience toward Liz, where would that get me? If I point my consciousness at the subject of love I can't at the same time point my consciousness at the object of love, Liz. The former helps me understand something about love. The latter enables me to experience love. - which is much more fun.

 

If God is love and those who love are of God, according to John, then maybe that's all I need to know. Maybe that's what faith is - realising that peace, love and joy are all of whatever we term God, and enjoying them.

 

Brian

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Soma said...

If there is a need we can judge the results from our own experience. I don't see the point in worrying or wondering whether an experience is real or imaginary.

 

Soma,

Yes, thanks, and from my own experience i would add that it seems to me wise not to allow someone else or a 'church system' to judge or define your experience for you. For me that was a sometimes painful detour that probably was necessary for me in my path to learn but would have been avoided had i held to what was given me rather than what others fed to me of things i now know they knew not of.

 

Joseph

 

PS Brian, Nice post , it speaks to me.

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I think we have to be 'up for it'. This is a primary openness or maybe what Brian Swimme calls 'allurement' (The Universe is a Green Dragon). Campbell suggests that our brains are 'reducing machines' which pull in information from around us and make sense of it. Some brains are better at that than others. It's a matter of genetic inheretence, environmental conditioning, culture etc. So maybe some people are more psychologically inclined to be 'spiritual' than others faith is - realising that peace, love and joy are all of whatever we term God, and enjoying them.

 

Brian

 

Yes, I think you are correct. This is not an experience that everyone has. So, there must be some conditioning factors; psychological, social, etc.

 

If we accept that it is not something everyone is predisposed to experience, is there any consequences other than missing one more experience among the many in life?

 

George

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Good Morning, George...

 

We can experience God on different levels and in different ways, each being a personal experience. The difficulty with classification of a 'real' or 'artificial' experience is, to me, one of setting. We do not need music, books, speaking of prayers, or any other external vehicle to bring us to such a state. God cannot be 'induced'. We do need to quiet ourselves. to calm our minds, our hearts, close our eyes, and listen with nothing more than our breathing and being as an activity. This 'waiting on the arrival of God' is something Quakers of the silent worship tradition have been doing for 350 years. It is also an approach used in other meditation traditions from around the world. A message from the Divine can be life changing. That was the case with me as my life fell apart from alcoholism. It took a clear message, something not only put into me an singular clarity, but my own acknowledgment of that understanding, for me to be an active drunk one day and then not drink the next. Clarity of understanding, a healing message, comes from God. These are ways that we can experience the Divine.

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Good Morning, George...

 

We can experience God on different levels and in different ways, each being a personal experience. The difficulty with classification of a 'real' or 'artificial' experience is, to me, one of setting. We do not need music, books, speaking of prayers, or any other external vehicle to bring us to such a state. God cannot be 'induced'. We do need to quiet ourselves. to calm our minds, our hearts, close our eyes, and listen with nothing more than our breathing and being as an activity. This 'waiting on the arrival of God' is something Quakers of the silent worship tradition have been doing for 350 years. It is also an approach used in other meditation traditions from around the world. A message from the Divine can be life changing. That was the case with me as my life fell apart from alcoholism. It took a clear message, something not only put into me an singular clarity, but my own acknowledgment of that understanding, for me to be an active drunk one day and then not drink the next. Clarity of understanding, a healing message, comes from God. These are ways that we can experience the Divine.

 

Russ,

 

You are living proof that the experience can be beneficial. Thanks for you thoughts.

 

George

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I really like your question, George, I think it is a good one and certainly worthy of discussion and sharing. Probably like a lot of folks here, I am not going to offer a definitive answer, either for myself or for progressive Christians in general. All I can do is to share what comes to my mind about this. Therefore, my response is definately subjective. :)

 

I have been reading a lot here about 'experiencing' God vs. 'reasoning' to God. My question is, how do we determine if an experience is authentic (meaning a real experience of the divine).

 

To me, while there is some overlap between 'experiencing' God and 'reasoning' to God, reasoning is just one way in which we explain, to ourselves or to others, our experiences. Reason is only one language we can use to understand and convey our experiences. But there are other ways or languages in which we can understand and convey our experiences, other ways/languages being poetry, story, myth, music, art, service, etc. From my background (raised conservative Christian), while people were encouraged to have an 'experience' with God (usually salvation or conversion or being born-again), the 'reasons' offered for having this, though claimed to be based upon the Bible, are really the 'experiences' of others - the apostle Paul, the disciples, etc. And the problem with the way the Bible was used in my youth was that it was used as a prescriptive book filled with, supposedly, objective reason when, really, it is a book filled with descriptive poetry, story, myth, service, etc. So, again IMO, I don't think people are really 'reasoned' to God as much as they 'experience' God in others and want something of that experience for themselves.

 

I don't think anyone would claim that all experiences of God are authentic as there are people who perceive that god is telling them to commit heinous acts like the mentally disturbed lady in Texas a few years ago who killed several of her young children under a perceived instruction from God.

 

I agree. I think it's safe to say that we progressives stand with other Christians in saying that God is love. For many of us, Jesus is embodiment or incarnation of the God of love or the love that is God. So when we look at his example, we see a life filled with experiences of God which worked themselves out in compassion and caring for others, even to the extent of going to the cross. Therefore, if what Jesus said is true and if his life is any kind of compass, what you might call authentic experiences of God manifested themselves in "good fruit." Jesus said that a tree is known, not by a label that it may wear, but by the kind of fruit that it bears. So it seems to me that if people claim to have or have had an authentic experience of/with God, then the natural result is good fruit i.e. compassion or love. If their fruit is not good, then we may be prudent in questioning their claim.

 

Having said this, I certainly have no objection to spiritual experiences as long as they are benign or beneficial. But, how do we determine if it is authentic, emotion or imagination? Does it matter?

 

And that's what I'm saying also. Experiencing Reality (or God) subjectively, we may not ever know for sure if our experiences are authentic, based on the experience alone. If God is the Source and Author of ALL that is, including emotion and even imagination, then it may not be necessary to draw hard lines between objectivity and subjectivity. All that may be necessary is to look at the fruit. Is it benign or beneficial, not only to one's self, but to others, to the world?

 

Thanks for listening.

 

sbnr

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