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#2557 - Friday, August 18, 2006 - Editor: Jerry Katz

This issue continues the excerpt from Issue #2556. The writing is from a new book on nondual Christianity. It could also be called a book on nonduality based on the confessions and instruction of Jesus Christ. The author has granted permission to continue publishing selections from this book in my next few Highlights issues. This book contains gem after gem of nondual expression not only from Jesus, His disciples, and other confessors, but especially from the heart and mind of the author, Michael Roden.  

--J. Katz

A Church Not Made with Hands:
Christianity as Spiritual Experience

by Michael Roden   "Look inside" at  


Chapter 1 continued...  

With habituation to the light found in spiritual experience, the individual’s mind and will begin to change. Oceanic love may be experienced: the deep, joyous, and tranquil manifestation of a more universal will. Such emotion filling heart and mind changes them as well, fully and by degrees. Visions may be seen and divine revelation may be given, like a message from out of time. There is in mystical experience a sense of joining and at the same time of transcendence of everything except the Being that is God. Only from Him there is no hiding. He infuses all, for He is the eternal originator and sustainer. Inherent in the holy encounter with Him is a strong sense of fullness that matches the heart-deep hunger for it and a sense of having at last surmounted usual lostness for certainty, certainty in the sacredness of everything because of perfect holiness in God.
     Simply to learn of the possibility of internal transformation can bring great benefit to the individual. Mystical experience gravitates to the individual who opens to it even slightly. But to give it its practice is to become prone to experience, to enter it more readily. This need not be done through rituals. The process is to let fear and guardedness fall away as the peace and purpose of being spiritually guided settles in.
     The process toward achieving experience of this union is not exactly difficult, but it may be long and intricate. Lex Hixon states that sensitivity to the guidance of spirit is indirectly imparted:

     Becoming sensitive to the guidance of spirit is learned from the genuinely ecstatic members of the community, not by rational instruction but as a child learns its own native language. The learning process is gradual, often imperceptible.

     Training in spiritual experience makes use of everything, from direct instruction to indirect example, from ritual to reading to prayer, from the repetition of religious precepts to the practice of forgiveness in the larger world. It uses life itself. It can make use of any moment, of any situation, as it shines its light into the mind. As Jesus said:

. . . there is nothing hid, except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret, except to come to light (Mark 4:22).

     To seek the mystical experience is to respond to “the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). It is to enter the evidence of something more real than surface appearance, as if there were another world hidden behind this one. To seek the mystical experience is to ask in prayer, with Jesus, for the oneness of God. Any open mind can be a vessel for this experience.
     We live in a context of experience always. Even in our ordinary existence we live in a context of psychology and inner experience. Our life and our self are internal, a series of psychological, emotional, and spiritual experiences, states, and conditions. We define ourselves and our relation to our world and to others from within a context of inner experience. All our motivation, intentions, hopes, dreams, plans, and goals are determined by what we value. The mind set free would soar to the highest truth, the heart flow from the deepest value. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” says Jesus in Luke 12:34.
     Internal spiritual experience is at least as solid and certain a foundation for truth as anything else. Even though “there is no descriptive term comprehensive enough in meaning to express the entire content of experience as such,” for the Christian who is guided by the Holy Spirit of God, which connects and keeps close, not a question would remain that need be answered. That is because the Spirit “searches everything, even the depths of God.” It lives in God, and through this Spirit, so do those in whom it once was hidden.
     That which remains when an individual encounters God is pure Being, pure Is-ness, pure experience, pure knowledge, perfect togetherness. One’s connection to the other realm lies in such an encounter, one’s salvation depends on it, one’s being is it. The lesser self recedes, and an all-Čencompassing one replaces it, through an encounter with God through the Spirit.
     Laying bare the deep psychological and spiritual elements involved in spiritual experience, Rudolf Otto has commented on “the immediately-felt certainty, the axiomatic quality and universality of religious conviction” that could not be explained in normal human terms. The purpose of religion is not to classify and categorize—and therefore further divide—but rather, to join, to personalize and universalize. The sense of sacred experience is that which makes religion transcendent and therefore gives it its ultimate purpose.
     Spiritual and mystical experience lies as much in the domain of psychology as of religion. Sometimes the deep psychological and even spiritual component is missed by theologians and scholars who see religion more along the intellectual lines of philosophy or along the historical lines of human society. Yet internal experience is where religion begins and ends.
     As Christianity became institutionalized and organized in hierarchical fashion, its emphasis shifted toward conformity of belief, and away from the open individuality of spiritual experience. Historian Helmut Koester states that the proverbial “keys of the kingdom” were originally intended for an experientially based Christianity of individuals. “The power of the keys was originally designed to bolster offices which became typical of the major heresies: the prophet in Montanism, and the teacher in Gnosticism.” The offices of prophet and teacher were replaced with priest and bishop as Christianity began to value secular power and bureaucracy rather than individual experience of the sacred.
     Spiritual experience is the great equalizer of persons. It ends the illusion of separation from God and from others. It “changes every assumption about the purpose of human existence.” It reveals individuals to be the same on the most fundamental psychological level, a rock-solid foundation on which to build a house in eternal creation.
     J. G. Davies notes that there is little evidence of gatherings for worship in earliest Christianity other than baptism and the Eucharist or ritual of shared meal. The New Testament indicates that early Christians met mainly to share experience, and this could be done somewhat informally. Baptism was more than a ritual; it was an initiation into spiritual experience and to converted identity, and the Eucharist or Holy Communion was the remembrance and restoration of spiritual presence through union. Origen believed that because of their grounding in spiritual experience, “in the life to come, the direct vision of God will make the eucharist and the Bible, which mediate the vision of God to us on earth, unnecessary.” There were great internal processes at work in earliest Christianity, interior processes passed down through tradition and deepened by the readings, but the best way to uncover internal processes is to experience them.
     If mysticism lies at the heart of a religion, how could religion become overwhelmingly legalistic, so as to derive nearly all its direction from external sources? Wilfred Cantwell Smith explains it thus:

     If one’s own “religion” is attacked, by unbelievers who necessarily conceptualize it schematically, or all religion is, by the indifferent, one tends to leap to the defence of what is attacked, so that presently participants of a faith—especially those most involved in argument—are using the term in the same externalist and theoretical sense as are their opponents.

     Not that theology is inherently bad, but Smith contends that a religion becomes external to the individual when one is defending it against those perceived to be outside it. Human defensiveness and rationalization concretize religion into a thing among things, outside the self, though it began as an affiliation of mind and heart with soul. But externalized religion becomes schematized, whereupon it begins to tend to personalized interests such as self-perpetuation, rather than the good of all humankind, thus neglecting the heart.
     Smith goes on to describe the process of the externalization of the Christian religion, saying that Christian discussion began to center:

     not on transcendent realities, and not on faith, man’s relation to them, but on the conceptualization of both, and on man’s relation to those conceptualizations: on believing.

     Dogma—systematized teaching—comes from the conceptualization and concretization of constant transcendent realities. The mind limited strictly to intellect can avoid the real subject for what seems like forever. And when the mind seeks to defend itself with intellectual propositions and moral proclamations, it is difficult for the Spirit, pervasive as it is, to break through. The individual becomes ensnared in the thicket of his or her own system. Intellectual assent to beliefs and teachings may come to take the place of the presence inherent in spiritual experience. But intellectual assent to the propositions of the intellect does not tend to the integration of the self both within itself and interpersonally with others as spiritual experience does.
     Paul offers spiritual experience as the sine qua non, as the essential characteristic of the Christian: “Any one who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (Rom. 8:9).
     Experience in the Spirit is the great transformation hidden in the heart of Christianity. Paul tells his spiritual brethren that “you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you” (Rom. 8:9). In other words, one belongs to another order of Being when the otherworldly Spirit overwhelms heart and mind.
     Risking externalization then, how is mysticism to be defined? It is the quest for Being. To take refuge in God through Union with God is that which the mystical heart seeks beyond all else. In mysticism, the presence of the Lord abides within the individual, and can therefore be experienced in the surrender of everything else. (It is more precisely true that the experience experiences itself; not even the individual is mediator of this experience.) In mysticism, the Church in all its splendor and the Bible in all its glory are ultimately signposts to the true glory and splendor inherent in union with God.
     The highest, deepest mysticism always involves a realization of union with God. Mystics as individuals choose no longer to experience themselves as separate from God; they strive above all else to bridge the sense of distance between themselves and God. Their drive becomes to find the highest state of Being and to remain there. Paul speaks of this universal motivation and its resolution in experience in God:

     that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him. Yet he is not far from each one of us, for “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:27–28).

     According to the great Christian mystic Meister Eckhart, the mystic longs to be nearer to God than he is to himself: “My being depends on God’s intimate presence.” The mystic wants above all else to be with God. How better to do so than to give oneself to Him in communion and find in Him the holiest of homes?
     Andrew Louth speaks of the passionate significance of union with God to the mystic:

     The mystic is not content to know about God, he longs for union with God. “Union with God” can mean different things, from literal identity, where the mystic loses all sense of himself and is absorbed into God, to the union that is experienced as the consummation of love in which the lover and the beloved remain intensely aware both of themselves and of the other.

     God reveals Himself through the deepest parts of the soul, mind, and heart to the one who can search only for Him. In the completion of true encounter, the self is for a second erased and for days left changed in the experience of union with God.
     Mysticism speaks of a relationship with God that goes beyond self yet remains within oneself. Not only is there a subjective world within, but there is an objective world beneath that, a world of truth and certainty, a world of transcendent knowledge and all-encompassing love. There is, at the very base of the subjective mind, something eternally real and true, spoken of in religious terms as Spirit, as union with God, as the kingdom of God, as eternal life.
     Some forms of mysticism emphasize the heart of devotion or of helping service, and some emphasize the intellect put to new use as steward of the spirit. The way of action, or service to others, is important and personally fulfilling; through service to others, we help ourselves. Lofty transcendent ideas are not only interesting for the mind to contemplate, but can also lead to a lofty state of transcendence. Yet what matters most is not the particular emphasis, for in truth all forms work together, so that each contains at least a kernel of the others. What matters most is union with God. The mystical heart wants deeply to feel this, the mystical mind, to know it.
     Mysticism depends on the evidence of objective internal experience. Systems that may grow from this life-giving clarity cannot replace it, so care must be taken that they do not overgrow it. In mysticism, there is an inner reality that seems more real to the deeper mind and heart than does the external world. Mysticism reveals evidence of the interconnectedness behind the multiplicity of which the world seems made. It is as if multiplicity, for all its ever-sprawling array, is just a surface that hides the core truth of Being. The individual will never be deeply and personally satisfied with even hundreds of thousands of things as long as his or her inner heart, will, and mind crave only one.  
~ ~ ~  

A Church Not Made with Hands:
Christianity as Spiritual Experience

by Michael Roden   "Look inside" at

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