Have you ever had a spiritual experience, that is, heard a voice or sensed a presence that could not be explained physically? Surveys indicate that most of us have had some sort of spiritual encounter but that we are reluctant to speak about it with others. Who wants to be thought of as crazy or have something so precious scoffed at?
Spiritual experiences are those rare occurrences when we sense first-hand an immediate encounter with the mystery of God that goes beyond our material world. These experiences evoke profound feelings of love and meaning. Carl McColman, in his Big Book of Christian Mysticism, says that “mystical Christianity is less about attaining unity with God and more about creating the inner emptiness where you can offer God hospitality.”
I wonder if the story of Jesus’ baptism is one of just such a spiritual encounter? We are told that when he prayed, after being baptized, he physically felt the Holy Spirit descend on him, and he heard a voice speaking to him.
One way or another we are left wondering what we are to make of such encounters.
- Privately cherish them, as they are special gifts that are fleeting and few. They can provide the spiritual journey with buoyancy and poignancy.
- Publicly share them, but only with a trusted few such as a spiritual director. They can be deeply meaningful, but you will likely need help discerning their significance. So be wise about who gets to speak into that meaning.
- Never proclaim them, especially when a community is in discernment. Offering a vision is one thing, declaring the direct voice of God is quite another. A humble and thoughtful thank-you to God for personal insight is a great response. It is interesting that Jesus did not immediately pivot from this mystical experience into his public teaching ministry but fled to the wilderness where he was tempted and tested.
How open are we to hearing that we are loved? What would it feel like to know you are God’s beloved? McColman says that we are called to be loved, to love, and to be love—and in that order. Is it possible to love other’s and God’s creation without first experiencing God’s love?
Today I will enter into the silence with centering prayer. My sacred words will be: I am beloved.
LUKE 3:15-17, 21-22 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”