I suppose I've felt a strange connection to God on and off throughout my life, ever since I was a little boy. I can remember a few instances throughout my childhood, growing up in the Nazarene tradition, where prayer or even just thoughtful solitude brought me to a place where I could feel God moving in me. It was not until I came to the Friends, though, that I had experiences that I would consider truly mystical. That's not to say that Nazarenes and various other religious traditions can't experience mystical communion with God--I just think that perhaps I wasn't really paying attention back then.
I'll briefly relate two of the experiences I've had since I began worshipping in the manner of Friends.
This first experience took place outside of Meeting for Worship. One day this past year, in the middle of a perfectly average day, I began to feel a very heavy weight on my soul. I couldn't put my finger on the problem. I couldn't think of any particular reason why I should feel such a dark cloud hanging over me and weighing on my heart. I tried to write it off as just a random funk, but nothing could really snap me out of it. A few hours later, I received an e-mail from a good F/friend who is a member of my Friends Worship Group. It was just a brief note asking that I hold him in the Light, as he was very much in need of God's healing. I later spoke to him and found that he, too, had experienced the sudden weight on his soul. The next day, we discovered that at about the same time we were having this experience, a very close friend of ours had decided to end his marriage of seven years. My F/friend and I truly believe that what we felt that day was God moving powerfully through the three of us, letting us share our friend's burden and inspiring us to pray harder than we had in a very long time, even if we didn't know exactly the reason or exactly where God wanted us to shine our Light.
The other experience I want to talk about, and the one that has affected me more than any in my life thus far, was the first time that I felt moved to speak out of the silence in Meeting for Worship. I was visiting my parents in North Georgia, and so I decided to go pay a visit to the Chattanooga (TN) Friends Meeting (some of whose members I had met a few months earlier at Yearly Meeting) and join them for Worship. It started out as any other Meeting. The room was warm and full of loving feeling, and the silence was deep and soothing. As time went on, however, I began to feel a tightness in my chest. Everything began slipping away from me until only an electric feeling in my body and a clear, persistent thought swirling through my mind remained. I didn't mean to stand up. I didn't want to. I had no intention to stand whatsoever. But before I knew it I was rising to my feet, electrified, as if my body were so full of weightless Light that it could stay attached to my seat no longer. Once up, I felt the love of my Friends upon me and the words began to come out, much more clearly than I felt like they should have. It wasn't a long message, and before I knew it I was sitting down again, my hands still trembling a bit from the shock of it all. I have never felt such a union with God. The thought of that Divine power welling up so powerfully inside of me still almost takes my breath away when I think of it.
God is good, and God is right here among us. Thanks for reading.
I sometimes feel closer to God in unprogrammed worship. The last time the latter happened it was a crisis day for me as people at my wife's church were promoting Christian leaders who claim Jesus only died for a few people, that none of us has any choice in life, that most humans are preordained to damnation:-( When I drove up to Friends meeting in the nearby city where I worship, I was emotionally despairing. I don't hold to such awful faith, but to hear it espoused at my wife's church really had me down.
Wonder of wonders, during unprogrammedd worship a lady (who knew nothing of my despair) rose with vocal ministry--and sang a hymn cappella of Christ's loving presence within us.
The love of God washed over me and hopefully others as we worshiped God in openness.
A couple of my most mystical experiences of God actually occurred when I didn't even live near a Quaker meeting. They are so beyond words that I don't think prose can explain them so I've included poetic descriptions instead. They forever changed my life and I still thank God that I could experience such bliss--such finite joy from God's infinite being.
Outside the Limit
Working the thursday graveyard shift
At 7-11, I stock cold shelves of 'cours'
Then write a college essay on dreiser
Of how all is thin surface, all negation;
But alert in the night, I pray in the stillness
While beyond the glass, the parking lot lies
Vacant, lit by the neon signs and street lights--
When so unexpected my mind transports.
I rise outside of self, see far beyondness,
Perceive myself sitting between the rows,
Observe the little ego in the skin and skull
My bodied self sitting with the staid cans and jars.
But now awash drowned in awe, the Personal
Luminousness aware beyond words vivid bliss
Blessed all encompassing exalting surpassing
Great parabled One Pearl of Being.
Artesian Well of Voice
I can’t carry a tune
Anymore than a bat can sing Hebrew
Or see hieroglyphics,
But once I welled up bursting
Soon all melodious barriers
Of sensuous fountaining,
Songing the voice of all singing.
Usually, I vocalize low
And hesitantly with insecure effort
But on that humid, crowded
Saturday eve of Calvary
In the crowded chapel meeting hall
In the midst of a thousand voiced praise
I not only caroled the Keys but was mused
One glorious open hosanna
With so much climatic passion
Like a human oboe in a great orchestra of tone
Being Bached and Beethovened,
The Spirit’s artesian well bursting forth,
Geysering up in adulation
To me, the beauty of the natural world has always been the most important meeting place with the Divine present in the world, and on a few occasions it has led me to enter a state of mind which I can only describe as being a mystical experience.
I would like to share one particular experience which has been quite determining for my later spiritual life, because it occurred in a time when I was quite engaged with Buddhism. In that time, I think I was quite well trained in clearing the noisy monkey-cage of my mind and ego, and I had felt the enormous power in silent meditation. I had taken distance from a theistic notion of God which was part of my upbringing, and at the time I did not consider it to be a relevant question anymore to include a God-notion in my spiritual outlook on life.
During this time, I was working as a tourguide in between my studies, and on one of my trips through the Middle East, I was sitting in a mini-bus together with a small tour pack of 12 persons. We had a few days of driving ahead of us to cross a quite dry and mountainous area. It was early spring time, and the first sporadic showers of rain started to occur. The heat of the outside air, the slow pace of the minibus, and the astonishing beautiful scenery around us made the whole group rather silent, some dozing off, some reading their Lonely Planets, some listening to music.
One afternoon during this trip, I suddenly noticed small patches of bright colors in the sand beside the road. As we continued our journey, these slowly started to bloom up until a big carpet of bright colors displayed itself all around us. The first rains had woken up the seeds from flowers and plants that had been waiting for a few raindrops to activate their dormant enzymes and molecules. In such dry areas, evolutionary adaptation to long periods of drought is amazing, and the blooming process is almost tangible in its intensity and speed.
As I was suddenly surrounded by this sea of life and color all around, it was as if I just dissolved. Everything was alive and smiling lovingly at me. I got tears in my eyes and could feel nothing inside of me but a profound feeling of thankfulness and a fountain of love for reality bubbling up inside of my chest. I was deeply impressed with this experience, and could not help but feeling the pull of a Force that deserved thankfulness, that I wanted to cherish, praise, feel, hold on to it and spread it around me, and let every evil in the world be washed away by its refreshing gentleness.
There I was, self-proclaimed Buddhist, previously convinced there was no such thing as a God or Godly power or Godliness, let alone a personal variant of those (for the record: apart from us cats down here providing a container to personify this Force (the Jesus-potential in us) I still don’t consider God to be a person and think it’s rather Harry Potterish to believe so), and all I wanted to do was to get on my knees and praise God, or to dance and sing (which Buddhists rarely do ).
I later on discovered the writings of Teilhard de Chardin as a confirmation of these type of experiences, and how to apply a Christian language to them without messing things up. (I can warmly recommend Friends to read “Hymn of the Universe”).
I'll try again:
I've always found Meetings for Worship 'mystical' - and espicially when 'centred'...where it seems that the various vocal ministry seems to connected and speaking to my condition. I grew up in a family that didn't actually attend Quaker meeting although we had Quaker connections. Briefly, my mom's side of the family were long-standing Quakers in Corinth, Virginia. My dad's side of the family Primitive Baptist in Winston-Salem, NC. Mom and dad met at Guilford College. My mom was raised a Quaker for her first five years, however, because there was a Presbyterian Church closer to my mom's childhood home my grandmother and grandfather chose to attend there. I was thus raised Presbyterian...and in my university years started looking back into Quakerism.
Visiting my relatives in southern Virginia I would go to Meeting there which was 'semi-programmed'...and I remember reading one of their Advices and Queries booklets which I liked.
I dabbled in a few different spiritual groups before attending Florida Avenue Friends Meeting in Washington, DC while working for the Smithsonian Institution. I immediately felt 'at home' finally. At the same time I was also reading the Tao Te Ching and liking this very much. I was working specifically for the National Zoo as a graphic designer. I ventured to Australia for a two week trip to explore zoos there prior to having befriended the graphic designer at the Melbourne Zoo who I stayed with for one week. The first night there somehow the topic of religion and spirituality came up and it turns out she was also a Quaker. I thought "How wild for another graphic designer in a zoological park to also be Quaker".
Seeking a teaching experience overseas (to teach graphic design) I was offered a job at Wanganui (pronounced 'wong' 'a' 'new' 'ee') Polytechnic in New Zealand. Seeing if there were any Quaker meetings nearby I was intrigued to discover that Wanganui was the site of the first Quaker school in NZ! So, again once I moved to NZ on the other side of the planet I found myself feeling 'at home'. For the first month of my life in NZ I lived at the Quaker Settlement aka Quaker Acres then eventually moved into the flat below the Meeting House as resident friend in the city.
Also turns out that Wanganui Polytechnic was started with the assistance of two dear friends that lived at the Settlement.
In many ways I experience 'mysticism' by way of what Carl Jung terms 'synchronicity' which has become a favorite word of mine.
After a few years in Wanganui I moved to the South Island to complete my masters degree in design.
Living next to the beach along the Pacific Ocean I found myself often meditating at night doing what I later discovered is called a shamanic 'standing meditation' - it just felt like the thing to do and I started reading up on shamanism, huna shamanism, and a bit more on the spiritual aspects of taoism.
At one point in my meditations I began to have experiences where birds seemed to attract to me like magnets (of course not that intense)...lol. But I also felt in-tune with seagulls as if they were trying to teach me something.
One cold brisk morning I walking along the beach freezing and noticed the seagulls standing in the shallow water. I though - how can they stand it so cold? - and I walked over and they didn't fly away - so I took my shoes and socks off and stood in the water with them....the water was warm and there was like a pocket of warm air flowing all around me....
Another time I was planning to go to Quaker meeting one sunday but found myself going for a walk along the beach early and walked and walked until the seagulls seemed to call me to follow them (which I did) - it sounds a bit 'psychotic' perhaps - which I think partly it was. . . yet believe too there is a fine line between psychotic/mystical realm now.
Anyway I did follow them and found myself quite tired. Where I ended up I discovered a bench that is not normally there and though to myself that it was perhaps a prototype for new benches along the beach. So I sat down exhausted. It was comfortable so I thought "I might just sit here all day and not go to Quaker Meeting - this IS my Quaker Meeting".
A half hour later a guy walked up next to me and said "Are you here for contest?" "What contest?" I asked. He said "Have you been listening to the radio? "No" then "Yes" (jokingly saying - yes I've been listening to the waves". He said there was a competition to sit on the bench all day and those that complete the task get to attend a rugby game and sit on the sideline later in the evening. I thought - well I was planning to sit here all day so I'll do it! And I did. And in my then 10 years of living in NZ I had never attended a live rugby game so it was all quite an adventure.
Aside from these 'synchronistic' experiences I also began to have physical ones...shaking, heat in my body, strange vocalisations (like whales), and unique breathing methods that were all spontaneous occurances. . . and also some very peaceful motions like Tai Chi movements. (I had no specific training in any yoga or tai chi or knowledge of Kundalini)....somehow or another I discovered I was reading about spontaneous Kundalini awakening and many of the 'symptoms' matched what I was starting to experience.
My breathing centred 'energy' into my heart and it was if stoking a fire or 'the Inner Light' more fully and being more fully aware in my body than ever before. A feeling of universal love was always present.
There is quite a lot that defy language in describing it all, but, it felt like quite an amazing mystical experience at a much more profound way than anything I've ever experienced.
It simply seemed to be telling me that all of the various spiritual paths are connected to the Inner Light even though our human language describes those paths differently. Interestingly some people who had knowledge of yoga and kundalini kept telling me that I had to do certain things a certain way in their understanding....while I respect that is where they were coming from - I simply felt that 'the way' was being opened to me spontaneously and in my own 'simple' Quaker way. . .
I've always loved the query "Do you accept The Light from whatever source it may come?". This is like my mantra - I stay grounded by my Quaker heritage while respecting spiritual knowledge from other traditions...but, I have not felt compelled to fully switch to any one thing - not even Quaker.
Lovely. I have often wondered how others experience speaking in Meeting for Worship and being moved to speak.
Similarly I found myself trembling with some 'nervous' energy that almost jolts me to stand up - as if to say - "If you don't stand up and say what needs to be spoken for you and others - you are just going to turn into a jibberish, shaking mess of nerves!". So, I find when I do stand it alleviates that nervousness.