The varieties of religious experience (with apologies to William James)

people praying photo

We always eat really well at our weekly potluck supper, and Saturday night was no exception. Homemade split pea soup flavored with hocks from pigs one of our families raised was the centerpiece–and of course pies for dessert . . . because it was pi day (3/14/15)!

We got to talking about the emphasis that Jesus places on relationship in the Gospel of Mark. Someone commented that people then and there could do that, because they could shake his hand, or kick him in the shins, if they were so inclined: All we can do, he said, is think about Jesus and his ideas, because you can’t have a relationship with someone you can’t see.

Someone else talked about knowing him through the words of Scripture. Then a third person volunteered that dyslexia makes it really hard for him to engage with the Bible. Someone asked him, so how do you experience God?

It tends to be easier for our community to talk about ideas sometimes than about ourselves, but that question opened the door to a first-person conversation about ourselves: about how–and whether–we experience God, pray, etc.

The takeaway?

  • We experience God in different ways.
  • We don’t always know and certainly can’t prove what’s God, what’s hormonal or biochemical or electrical (brainwaves, e.g.), and what’s a weird dream caused by the pizza we had for supper.
  • That’s uncomfortable.
  • Just because it’s biochemical or electrical doesn’t mean it’s not God. The God of the Creation and the Incarnation just might feel really free to manifest himself through natural laws and through our bodies.
  • Many churches use music, lighting, etc. to manipulate people into experiencing a physiological and emotional rush in the name of worship.
  • One of the powerful ways we experience God is through each other, including talking about and listening to each other talk about our individual experiences of the presence, absence or possibility of God.

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