Thursday, April 22, 2010

Really 'Spiritual' Experiences: Those are Okay

I'll share a little 'spiritual' experience I had, at the end of this post.

First, though, I'd better explain why my faith doesn't depend - at least not entirely - on that sort of thing.

'I Laughed, I Cried: It Moved Me'

I've had deeply-moving experiences that stirred my heart and other major organs. Some of them were 'religious.' That's fine. Feeling emotions is a part of being human; we're made that way.

But most grownups also have about three pounds of very complex neural circuitry in our heads: and not all of it is tied up with managing body functions, sensory input, and what our glands are doing.

Human beings aren't, I think, strictly rational creatures: but most of us are able to think rationally.

Rational Religion: No Kidding

Religion doesn't have anything to do with being rational, right? Everybody knows that.

In some American subcultures, sadly, just about everybody does make that assumption: and the rest keep carefully silent about what they think. I've posted about this before. A few times. (See "Faith and Reason, Religion and Science (March 20, 2009), for starters.)
Impressing the 'Right People;' or God? It's Your Call
A word of advice? If you want to get accepted by the more 'sophisticated' American subcultures, adopt a derisive, dismissive attitude toward religion. Particularly Christianity. Some eastern belief systems are okay, sometimes.

I don't recommend that you do that. At all. God doesn't like being brushed off.

But if you think you can get along without God: He may accommodate your preferences. A few 19th-century wits notwithstanding, that would be very unpleasant.

If you're convinced that people who think God is real are "close minded fools," well: That's what you believe.

I don't agree: but then I'm one of those 'religious' people: I would say that.

Getting High on Jesus, Rousing Revivals and the Dark Night of the Soul

I've got nothing against "that HALLELUJAH! feeling. (August 26, 2009) It's okay to feel good about God and Jesus and going to church and praying and all that.

But if my faith depended on an emotional high, I'd probably be dropping in and out of a number of denominations with a 'Southern Baptist' style. And going to the mountains now and again for a Rocky Mountain High.

Then there's the sort of faith modeled by Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
"...About two years ago, if you believe what you read in the press and the blogosphere, we found out that Mother Teresa was an atheist, a fake, a fraud - not spiritual at all.

"That's because letters were made public, showing that for a very long time, she didn't feel all that uplifted and peppy about Jesus. She went about her work and prayers, relying on her will, not her feelings...."
(August 26, 2009)
I wrote about her possibly-record-setting dark night of the soul before.

From a touch-feely, 'uplifting' point of view, Mother Teresa of Calcutta was one of the biggest frauds of the 20th century. Because she didn't feel 'high on Jesus and life.' For a long, long time.

Me? As I wrote before:
"...I see a spiritual dryness, a lack of emotional uplift, as something like Special Forces training: rigorous; definitely not for everybody; reserved for those few who can handle it.

"Calling Mother Teresa a hypocrite or an atheist because she went through an unusually long dark night of the soul is like saying that a Green Beret isn't a real soldier because he's had training most GIs don't get."
(August 26, 2009)
I'm no Mother Teresa. Very few people are.

Maybe that's why I've had this sort of experience, now and then:

Charisma: Either You Got It, or You Don't

There's a story I heard, from someone who'd been at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

And yes: there was a big, big scandal there. I know. While I'm at it, let's not forget the Pedophile Priests!

Moving along.

Anyway, there's this 'prayer tower' on the Oral Robers campus. A sort of compact Space Needle, to be used for prayer and meditation.

This fellow was in the prayer tower, alone, looking out over the Oklahoma landscape. His back was to that floor's entrance. He said he didn't hear anything - but he 'felt' that someone was there. Turning around, he saw Oral Roberts stepping through the door.

I'm inclined to accept the fellow's account at face value.

Oral Roberts, the man who founded the university, had what Americans call charisma: "a personal attractiveness or interestingness that enables you to influence others" (Princeton's WordNet) That doesn't make him a good or a bad man: it was a part of him.

The way I'm using the word, I don't mean "charismatic" in the religious sense. This sort of "charisma" is what many celebrities have: as well as some insurance salesmen, priests, ministers, street cops - and people with less high-profile posts in society. Oral Roberts, from my experience seeing him on television and reading about him, had charisma by the bushel. Some people do.

There are times when I'll 'feel' someone who's within maybe forty or fifty feet. I think most people have. I'm not talking about goofy spiritualism: just something that people experience now and then. Generally, when I feel that and look in the direction of the (pressure?), there's someone there.

Feeling the Real Presence: Sometimes

Then there was the time at Mass. I like to sit near the front, a few pews back. It's a shorter walk, and I get a better look at what's happening. Particularly the conscecration of the host.

What I'm going to write next can fairly easy be dismissed as self-hypnosis, mass hysteria (pun intended), or random neural activity. That's possible, but I don't think so.

Anyway, right around the moment when the priest said, "Behold the Lamb of God," I felt that someone was there.

Well, duh: the priest was there. So, as I recall, was the deacon. But the priest had been there for a while already. And, as usual, I felt nothing out of the ordinary from that direction.

At the moment of consecration, or so close that I couldn't discern a delay, I felt somebody just about where the priest was standing. Big time.

The sensation made the most sense, if I assumed that someone with world-class 'charisma' was sitting on the altar. Which is ridiculous, since I could see that there wasn't anybody there besides the ordinary folks who'd been there before.

Like I said: Maybe I'm making the whole thing up. Fooling myself. I don't think so, though.

The moment of consecration is when "The Eucharistic presence of Christ begins...." (Catechism, 1377) That time, I was allowed to perceive that Jesus was there.

I've experienced that a few other times. Maybe a handful. No big deal: Maybe my Lord knew I needed a reminder that He's there.

Sort-of-related posts:
A tip of the hat to PatriceEgging, on Twitter, for getting me started on this post. I'm not sure that she meant to do that: but that's the way it is.


Brigid said...

Our? "looking our over the Oklahoma landscape"

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Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...


Yeah. Thanks. Got it. "Out over" of course.

christophorum said...

I like what you have to say about charisma, and it's not being good or bad. Unfortunately, in today's culture, a lack of charisma is often viewed as lack of character. The best example is Pope Benedict vs. Pope John Paul. JPII was very charismatic and media-savvy, Benedict is more professorial and almost introverted. Consequently, Benedict has been hammered in the press almost from day one of his papacy. In some ways though, I feel that he may be a better pope than JPII.

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...


Thanks for taking the time for that comment.

I think your evaluation of the press and Benedict XVI, regarding 'charisma' and media smarts has a point.

However, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, before he became Pope Benedict XVI, had earned a reputation as being the Vatican's "pit bull" - for his no-nonsense defense of Catholic teaching.

Some see that "pit bull" reference as an insult. I see it as an acknowledgment of tenacity and energy.

I also think that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's reputation as someone who was Catholic - knew it - and was both able and willing to defend and support the Church - became Pope, he became a target for those who the 'better sort' in Western culture.

The 'pedophile priest' scandal may have been just what many journalists and editors wanted. Or, maybe that's what sent them screaming off the edge of reason, into a writhing chaos of emotional response. Or, something else.

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.