|The Chief Aim and Purpose of
religion, all religions, is to put a person in touch with God. People
need to know God in order to serve Him and others well and to fulfill
themselves by a "spiritualizing." People's lives to be complete, whole
and healthy should include a spiritual side and a spiritual wisdom from
that spiritual side that encourages wisdom, tolerance, acceptance and a
caring benevolent concern for others.
But in order to have that fulfilling spirituality that pleases God and serves mankind, there needs to be some sort of cultivation of the spiritual relationship with God that can add spiritual depth to the shallow materialism to which flesh is prone. To be whole, fulfilled, civilized, healthy and balanced, people need a spiritual awareness and that means a relationship of some sort with God.
In religion the relationship with God should be there to be the horse that pulls the cart of religious observance, worldly concern and tolerant benevolence for others. Today many church goers have fallen into thinking that second hand knowledge about God will serve in place of knowing God. How absolutely ridiculous. No, some sort, some style, some awareness of God, some realizing of God, even if the relationship be limited to only an awareness of God that comes from "moments of grace" is nessesary.
A few moments of grace randomly experienced at odd times at least keeps people aware that God is out there. But that is not really enough of a relationship. One often needs to cultivate a relationship with God. The Jesuits use the Spiritual Exercises of Loyola, which if far too militaristic for my taste, do serve to keep the readers focused. At the minimum a regular Bible study, meditation and benevolent action is needed. The idea is to keep you focused on God, and work out some means of grace that you may focus on with diligence.
But the goal of man's development as a human being includes a spiritual side that takes mankind higher than the mere materialism and hedonism flesh is prone to. Now God may speak to us in various ways. I don' t suggest you should or are going to hear voices though, of course, He did this with Joan Of Arc. (Any rule God can find a exception to.) Remember in scripture God says "my grace is sufficient for thee"
and divine "strength is made perfect in weakness."
But God does communicate. He communicates in various and diverse ways. If you don't believe this, read Edgar Cayce. God also communicates through silent convictions that grow. Then you will know when you know. Also communication can come at times in a certain kind of dream. (Freud over generalized on the interpretation of dreams.) Check out the dreams in the Gospel that warned the Holy Family to flee to Egypt. Also in classical history there were many dreams that were communicated for there is a shared unconscious oversoul that seems to be a predictive agent of affirmative living.
But dreams are dramatic exceptions, while what should be worked towards in a good relationship is the non-dramatic cultivation of a firmly stable, confident and mutual respect that will strengthen good character, confidence and a sense of a shared mystery and the joy of living with the Great Being.
I suggest it may be a great mistake to be too concerned over your creeds and picky religious observances at such times as you try to communicate with God. You are trying to have an exchange with a Spirit far too large and infinite for anyone's single mind to grasp in totality. In trying to get on God's frequency there is bound to be a lot of static. The effort to hear well and grasp means a lot of static. Thus many religious and philosophical beliefs have an eccentric side.
When I had my first great experience of God I was praying alone. I became conscious of an invisible personality of great love and compassion in the room. It was like a cleansing magnet drawing out all feelings of sin and inadequacy. Soon I felt rejuvenated and re-energized. Everything around me was brighter and I had a delicious sense of feel for any texture I touched cloth, wood, brass. I was not a completely new being, but a different being with a new awareness of life and a joyful feeling for life.
After my experience of the presence of God I, walked several hours outside in the night. The feeling of the way my heart was beating was thrilling The stars, the moon the night, were more beautiful than I ever before witnessed them. I saw them as we are supposed to see them. For the first time I think I saw how things should be seen. I realized how at the center of the universe there was a great fountain of rejuvenating and cleansing joy always streaming. I had, so to speak, bathed in it.
Of course I realized from an ordinary life perspective, I could be crazy. Probably most people didn't feel or had never felt this way. But if I were mentally off, it was great. I wasn't complaining at all. I was delighted. And I think anyone in their right mind would have been delighted.
It came to me while I was under the influence of this experience that most of the people on earth were not in their right mind. They had never seen the universe as it should be seen nor felt how they (at least one time) should have felt the texture of it.
Most people are born to numbness, dumbness and a mediocre life of anesthetized feeling. I felt sorry for the people out there who didn't know what they had because actually they didn't it. They were living on earth but did not know the real earth. They were missing the true feelings of life. They were living but were not alive. Their hearts were beating, true, but not with joy as mine was. They did not know how life was meant to be and they didn't know how it felt to go to be with God, dead or alive.
I knew instinctively that the Spirit BEING I had met was God. There was no doubt in my mind that this was God. It was the "God" all religions talked of, but the Spirit didn't identify Himself to me as to whose view of God He was. (When the Apostle had his experience of God, Paul was told the visitor was Christ.) But my Visiting Spirit did not designate which
revelation HE represented. But He was like the revelations of God nearly everywhere: compassionate, kind, rejuvenating, invigorating, and completely accepting of my defects. Had I been asked to, I don't believe I could have hurt anyone soon after meeting Him. I was too uplifted.
This God to me was certainly like the God my Presbyterian clergyman father taught me about as a child. So I stayed with my father's faith. But I was also gravely aware now of how much religion loses in the telling of Him. Some religions just don't know Him. Their big revelations seem generally correct (kind, compassionate, rejuvenating) but so much of God is lost through some of the religious paraphernalia.
Now I didn't think God really cared if anyone ate fish on Friday or not, recited every mean chapter and verse in the Old Testament to justify something horrid, laid down picky church laws forever or came up with strange and diverse doctrines (and some, believe me, are, check it out.) Or forever recommended to me what was none of their business: who to vote for and how to vote. The churches have dragged God down to some pretty low levels. The only problem is I know this now. So I look at things differently, still do for that matter. Alleluia. Thank the Lord. Amazing Grace !
As for the church, I still believe in the good works it often does. I am glad to be a part of them. I go to church every Sunday and I preach sometimes also. BUT I'VE MET GOD. So I know God exists and, what's more, I know something of how God is.
I also recognize the non-transcendent level some church organizations are sometimes, but not always, on. They may bully over creeds or differences about them, give out bad liberal political advice, tell us what we are supposed (as the church bureaucrats see it) to think and do. All this has and is going on. It has nothing to do with a real meeting with God in my view.
But as for me I KNOW FROM HISTORY WHAT THE CHURCHES HAVE SOMETIMES TRIED TO TIE ON TO THE EXPERIENCE OF GOD CAN BE A SCANDAL LIKE THE SPANISH INQUISITION. SOME BUT NOT ALL MOSLEMS ARE DOING THIS TODAY WITH "'JIHAD" OR HOLY WAR.
It is up to us, as real believers to recognize we sometimes have to PROTECT GOD AGAINST RELIGION' or, perhaps, protect religion against superficial believers who have not truly, I think, experienced the God who is God but have gone overboard with only second hand sources about a second hand God who they may have read about but they had not personally experienced God. Nationalism and political situations often aggravate these situations or rub religious differences raw over political differences.
I am a believer in God and a preacher of the Word but now I am inclined to do as they say Voltaire, the French realist, did; He winked as he took the sacrament. He believed in God but God had not been protected from a religion being misused at the time. So I wink also at off balance representations of God. I believe when I wink, God winks back. But we politely go through the ritual forms.
Because religion is officially present, it does not necessarily mean God is. In a struggle between religion and God, God may temporarily but not permanently have lost. This has happened many times in history. The false religions will eventually diminish, but the true experiences of God will continue as God wills them. The Spirit or Presence of God goes and comes as mysteriously, strangely, as the wind, throughout all of history. As Jesus said in the Gospel of John 3:8, "the wind bloweth where it listeth (wills); so is everyone that is born of the Spirit." I consider myself born of the Spirit, therefore I preach not because I have been to seminary to be schooled but because I am born of the Spirit.
Dr. James MacLeod may be contacted through the Neill Macaulay Foundation.