Sunday, May 18, 2014

Are "religious experiences" real?

Over the coming weeks I hope to write a few posts exploring religious experiences, whether they mean anything, and what (if anything) we could understand by it. But I'll begin this undertaking with remembering one religious experience I had. It wasn't the first, and it wasn't the most recent, but it was (to me) the most memorable. I don't remember that I've ever put it into words before, but I'll try it here.

One early summer afternoon, while I was sitting indoors, I looked out the nearby window. At first it was just the usual pause to notice that the outside looks better than the inside. That became a still longer pause as I realized that it was a finer day than usual, and stopped to really look. But next ... it was no longer a simple instance of me looking out the window. The beauty of the world was so intense it was piercing. The scene was gripping, in a way that my whole focus was given over to it, and it came with a sense of amazement. The details were vivid -- the color of the sky, the bright and shaded patches on the clouds, the intensity of the light, the color of the crape myrtle tree. It felt like I was seeing them -- really seeing them -- for the first time. There was a sense of a deep current of goodness flowing through all of reality. There was a sense that this reality that I was seeing was always there, timeless. At the time I felt joy, and wonder, and delight -- and those words are nearly too shallow. I felt like I was overflowing with that sense of goodness.

And that gripping moment -- that seemed timeless, while experiencing it -- I'm sure on a clock it might have only been some short minutes. I've never used this word to describe the moment before, but if I were to call up language that someone religious might understand, I'd say the world was transfigured, where the glory was seen without any disguise. I wonder now, does my everyday apathy prevent me from seeing it like that all the time? What did it take to break through my routine expectations of a simple glance out the window? When I felt like I was overflowing with that sense of goodness -- had I reached the capacity of my heart and mind to experience it? Would it be possible to come back with a greater capacity, and experience it more fully?

These days I have an idea that our minds -- the parts that see the world in video -- don't work too differently from the way computers render video: that is, I wonder if our minds only render the part that changes from one moment to the next, from one day to the next as we see the same thing time after time. I wonder if we learn to tune out the rest as background. I wonder how much of the world is right in front of us that we never see, or have trained ourselves not to notice. 


Georg Warnecke said...

well, it's the old chicken-and-egg problem, isn't it?
is the human spirit and mind a result of the bioelectric and biochemical processes of the brain – or is our brain just the vehicle for the human mind and spirit?
depending on from where you come the perception and possible answer might slightly differ…

Martin LaBar said...

It's right there, and God made it good.

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Georg

Thank you for the comment.

For my own part, I believe the brain works by electrical, chemical, and other natural means, AND is the basis for the human mind and spirit. One example I use is that the Mona Lisa is just paint on canvas ... which is the exact reason it makes us marvel, considering that it goes far beyond what you'd expect of paint and canvas.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Martin

Good to see you. I believe you're right. :)

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF