I usually don’t share my meditation or religious experiences, but I had an experience this morning so powerful for me personally that I wanted to attempt to record it and share it. It was an encounter with God unlike any I’ve had. It began with my reading last night of some passages from Karen Armstrong’s book The Case for God, which is turning out to be a profoundly good read, by the way.
Karen was discussing the interplay of cataphatic and apophatic theology. For those unfamiliar with these terms – cataphatic theology is an approach to God which focuses on what God IS – what can be affirmed about God, whereas apophatic theology focuses on what God is NOT, what is denied about God. For example, in the concept of the Trinity, God is one (cataphatic) but at the same time, God is NOT one, but three (apophatic). And yet he is not three (apophatic) but one (cataphatic). In the process of moving back and forth between these two, affirming something about God, only to deny it – we reach a state of abandoning human concepts and resting in the ineffability of God beyond human reason.
No human concept applies perfectly to God. The human intellect is like a sword – with human concepts being as much about what something is NOT as what it is. The book is here, but not there. It exists now, but it did not exist five years ago. It is red, which means it is not blue. By cutting away what something is NOT, the human intellect arrives at a definition of what it IS. But with God, none of that works. He is here, and there. He exists now, and then. There is nothing to cut away. And because our concept of “existence” relies on this cutting away, it is not even possible to say that God “exists”. It is equally impossible to say that he does NOT exist. Not because, like the agnostic, we aren’t sure – but because the word “exists” breaks down when we try to think about God.
As I continued to meditate on God as beyond existence and non-existence – beyond good and bad, beyond desire and change, I was suddenly struck with the idea that all our human ideas of meaning and purpose which so drive our religious and spiritual quests might be nothing more than misapplications of our biological drives for survival. It was a very arid and even atheistic thought, in which the whole of human existence seemed like something of a sad joke. The ultimate object of concern – God – seemed on reflection to lack real purpose or quality. He simply is – take it or leave it.
And then – suddenly, I felt the presence of something that felt very remote, and yet full of inexpressible love and goodness. I had the distinct impression that this presence was observing me from a great distance, with total acceptance, but with some disappointment at my situation of having to exist in the material world. It was as if “God” were a slightly cruel boy tormenting the ants in his ant farm with a magnifying glass (I being one of his ants), while his older and much kinder brother looked on with disapproval from behind him, reaching to intervene and snatch the magnifying glass away.
It felt very “Gnostic”. My sense of the material world was very negative, but I felt very intensely the presence of a remote goodness what was totally unconnected with the material world – something to which I immediately felt and expressed love and loyalty.
I find this a bit confusing. Previously, I have believed that there is a progression in spirituality from nature mysticism to causal mysticism to non-dual mysticism. One first sees God in nature (Pantheism or Paganism) and then sees God as above nature (Monotheism) or even against nature (Gnosticism) and finally sees God as both in and above nature at the same time (non-duality). I have had spiritual experiences and episodes of all these mystical states. But now I’ve had what seems a more intense and advanced spiritual experience, and the flavor is definitely Gnostic.
It may be that my earlier experiences were simply intellectual counterfeits, or “light” versions of real mysticism, and now I’m working my way through the series at a more intense level. Or I may have to re-evaluate the whole progression thing.
It feels like some sort of breakthrough, but I’m not quite sure yet how to deal with it.