By Ken R. Vincent
The following is excerpted from Chapter 7 of Dr. Vincent’s book, The Golden Thread: God’s Promise of Universal Salvation. Republished here with permission from the author and publisher.
The very personal, direct experience of God — when the barriers between the human being and God’s Universe dissolve — is termed a mystical religious experience. Both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament tell of many who were immersed in the Spirit of God. Within their pages, we are allowed to share the visions of God through the eyes of the Prophet Isaiah (Is 1:1, 6:1-8) and to enter into the ecstatic mystical experience as told by St. Paul (II Cor 12:2). For Christians, Jesus is the one who most perfectly became One with God (Jn 10:30). In addition to those named in the Bible, “saints”, “sages”, and “mystics” blessed with this intimate knowledge of God have existed from the beginning of time, and we are fortunate to have the writings of many who were emboldened to act in their societies following their experiences. (Later in this chapter, some of the well-known Universalist mystics will be discussed.) But were you aware that religious mystics are still among us today? Over the past hundred years, researchers in the scientific study of religion have been able to determine that “mystical” experiences of God are not really so rare! (Data from this scientific inquiry will be explored later in this chapter.) When I have taught adult Sunday school classes or Psychology of Religion classes on the topic of mystical religious experience, inevitably those who can recall their own mystical experience of God understand me perfectly while those who have not had this kind of personal experience often remain skeptical! In this chapter, I hope to offer some personal and social science evidence which will help to expand the understanding of this phenomenon.
To me, the fact that everyone has not had a personal mystical experience is a source of sadness. The great dream of all mystics is that we could, in the words of William Blake, “cleanse the doors of perception” so that all might experience directly the loving presence of God in the here-and-now. In reality, “unknown” and “anonymous” mystics have been discovered among ordinary people in almost half the population. Two more facts regarding mystical experiences help to put this experience into perspective: The first is that mystical religious experiences usually occur only once or twice in the lifetimes of about half of those reporting them, and the second is that mystical religious experiences, although always profound, definitely vary in intensity from one person to another. Some years ago I was watching a television interview of Mother Theresa who related that she had only one mystical experience — a vision of Jesus telling her to go to India and serve the poor! When I teach, I often make the analogy that some of us received a candle of light while Jesus received a beacon!
Mystical religious experiences are categorized as either “spontaneous” (they “just happen!”) or “sought-after.” Meditation is the only safe way to induce this experience, but there is no guarantee that meditation will produce the desired outcome.
All true mystical experiences serve to reinforce what Jesus taught about God’s love for us. Mystics through the ages have reminded us to stay the true course, reject dogma, and not let mechanical ritual substitute for good works and kindness. Like Jesus, Christian mystics have often been at odds with the church leaders when those leaders have put authority, church business, and theological interpretation above the compassion of God.
Jesus promised the continuous presence of the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:26), and St. Paul expressed his unquestioned belief that the direct experience of God is open to everyone (II Cor 3:18). Conservative Christian scholar Luke Timothy Johnson correctly notes that mystical religious experiences described in the New Testament are often ignored in modern studies of Christian origins. This direct contact between God and humanity in the New Testament is also discussed by moderate Christian scholar James D. G. Dunn, in his book Jesus and the Spirit.
Universalism Among Mystics
Universalist theology is rooted in religious mystical experience and can be found in mystics writing as early as the 2nd Century and continuing throughout the Dark Ages, the Reformation, and the Age of Enlightenment. Mystic and researcher Evelyn Underhill considers these prominent Universalist mystics to be among the greatest: Clement of Alexandria (160-220), Origen (183-253), Macarius of Egypt (295-386), Gregory of Nyssa (335-394), John Scotus Erigena (810-877), Jacob Boehme (1575-1624), and Jane Lead(e) (1625-1704). The Carmelite Priest and mystical researcher Bruno Borchert adds these Universalists: Gregory of Nazianze (329-390) and Hans Denck (1500-1527). In my view, no list of Universalist mystics would be complete without George De Benneville (1703-1793).
Jane Lead, who founded a society of Universalists called the Philadelphians in 17th Century London, described her mystical experience in which the nature of post-mortem punishment was revealed to her. Recorded in her book, The Enochian Walks with God, she states that God’s love triumphs, that punishment is for reforming, and that all are reconciled with God in the end. George De Benneville — physician, preacher, and mystic — wrote of his Universalist mystical religious experience and his in-depth near-death experience in his book entitled, The Life and Trance of Dr. George De Benneville. Like Jane Lead, these personal experiences convinced De Benneville that Hell is for purification and that, in the end, all will be united with God.
|Throughout the history of Christianity, mystics not identified formally as Universalists have nevertheless advocated Universalist ideas.|
Throughout the history of Christianity, mystics not identified formally as Universalists have nevertheless advocated Universalist ideas. This is hardly surprising, as in the West the Catholic Church had condemned Origen’s form of Universalism as heretical, and Universalism had to go underground until the Reformation. In contrast, the Eastern Church (Oriental Orthodox, a.k.a. Nestorian Church or Assyrian Church of the East) accepted Universalist theology. Greats such as Theodore of Mopsuestia placed Universalism solidly in the liturgy. Additionally, Universalism is recorded in the Eastern Church’s 13th century Book of the Bee (Chapter LX). Universalist thinking continues in less emphatic form in the liturgy of the Eastern Church today.
A good example of Universalism in the writings of “unofficial” Universalist mystics is the great 14th century English mystic, Julian of Norwich. Though her Universalist mystical experiences of God were contrary to Catholic Church teachings of Hell and Purgatory, she wrote that both must be true in some sense, though she did not see it. This “dance” she did between church dogma and her mystical religious experiences was enough to keep her in the good graces of church officials. Nevertheless, her Universalism shines through. She writes:
All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well… And He is very Father and very Mother of Nature: and all natures that He hath made to flow out of Him to work His will shall be restored and brought again into Him by the salvation of man through the working of Grace… All this being so, it seemed to me that it was impossible that every kind of thing should be well, as our Lord revealed at this time… And to this I had no other answer as a revelation from our Lord except this: “What is impossible to you is not impossible to me. I shall preserve my word in everything and I shall make everything well.”
Thus she echoes the Universalist message of St. Paul that God will be “all in all” (I Cor 15:28).
It is this Universality of God’s love for all and God’s presence in all that is the hallmark of all mystical religious experience whether or not theological statements of Universalism are proclaimed. As George Fox, founder of the Quaker movement, was known to repeat: “All creatures in God, and God in all creatures.”
Mystical religious experiences are not limited to Christianity and are Universal, as expressed by the early 20th Century mystic and researcher Evelyn Underhill (Anglican): “This unmistakable experience has been achieved by the mystics of every religion; and when we read their statements, we know that all are speaking of the same thing.” William James, the first American-born psychologist, believed that, “The founders of every church owed their power originally to the fact of their direct personal communication with the divine.” If God loves us all, how could this be otherwise? This case for Universality has been well documented by other Christian writers, including John Hick (Universalist) who bases his Universalism in part on his own mystical experiences of God and Bruno Borchert (Carmelite priest).
|In studying the accounts of mystics from Biblical times to the present, it is easy to hear the recurring themes of 1) The continuity of God’s love, and 2) The Oneness with God and the Universe.|
In studying the accounts of mystics from Biblical times to the present, it is easy to hear the recurring themes of 1) The continuity of God’s love, and 2) The Oneness with God and the Universe. However, some of the first modern philosophers and theorists, lacking any objective data to support their views, dismissed religion as superstition and labeled mystics as having mental problems. The best example of this faulty reasoning is Sigmund Freud who pronounced that religious founders like Jesus were psychotic and that religious people were neurotic. Fortunately, at the time Freud was making unsupported claims (that would later be refuted), a champion arose to counter his flawed theories.
Over a hundred years ago, William James, the first American psychologist, began his serious study of religious experience. His classic work, The Varieties of Religious Experience, was published in 1901 but is still in print today. Using the basic tools of observation and case studies, he began to research religious visions and mystical experience. James was able to formulate some working hypotheses on the nature of religious experiences, and much of what he hypothesized has subsequently been tested in large-scale research projects that have subsequently validated his observations.
The big news today in the study of mystical religious experiences is sheer numbers! Social scientists now have documented thousands of people who have come forward to tell of their direct experience of God. Researchers can now state with absolute certainty that Freud was wrong — the number of people with personal experience of God is at least eight times greater than the number of people who have suffered psychotic episodes!
Large-scale surveys on mystical experience began in 1969 when Alister Hardy founded the Religious Experience Research Unit at Oxford University. In order to research mystical religious experience within the general population, Sir Hardy made an appeal to the general public via newspapers and pamphlets which asked the question, “Have you ever been aware of or influenced by a presence or power, whether you call it ‘God’ or not, which is different from your everyday self?” Readers were invited to send him their responses. Ten years later, Hardy published a book based on the first 3,000 responses he had received to this question. The Alister Hardy Religious Experience Research Center at Oxford also found that 95% of reported mystical experiences in their British national sample were positive.
The next significant step taken by social scientists to objectify research on this topic was in 1977 by David Hay and Ann Morisy. Using the same question about the experience of God used in the previous study, they studied a random sample of 1,865 British persons (rather than a self-selected group as in the first survey), and 35% responded “yes” to the question. Repeating the Alister Hardy question on mystical religious experience ten years later, a British Gallup Poll found that the number responding “yes” had risen to 48%. In Australia, a similar study the same year found 44% of the population reporting “yes” to the same question.
Between the appeal in the British newspaper for accounts and the objective large-scale population survey, Andrew Greely and his colleagues at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago began their surveying using a similar question: “Have you ever felt as though you were very close to a powerful spiritual force that seemed to lift you out of yourself?” A national sample of 1,467 Americans showed 39% responding “yes”. Over the years, repeated national samples have shown that the number of people responding affirmatively to this question has varied from 35% to 50%. In a poll of Poles, Andrezej Kokoszka of the Copernicus School of Medicine in Krakow found that 54% of those surveyed reported at least one profoundly altered state of consciousness. These included 1) “Experience contact with a Divine Being or God” (36%) 2) “Experience of the impression that you understood everything, only it was impossible to utter this impression” (often called “cosmic consciousness”) (28%), and 3) “Experience of the feeling of being One with the Universe” (16%).
Some evidence supports an increase in mystical experiences. Three in-depth British studies in which the respondents were interviewed rather than surveyed yielded positive response rates of over 60%. One-fourth of the respondents reported that they had never told anyone else of this experience for fear of being thought “mentally ill” or “stupid.” When Americans were recently surveyed with the question: “In general, how often would you say you had experienced God’s presence or a spiritual force that felt very close to you?,” an incredible 86% reported that this had happened to them one or more times!
Mystics Are Happier!
A survey of British by Hay and Morisy noted that people reporting mystical religious experiences tended to have greater psychological well-being than those who report no mystical religious experiences. In his survey of Americans, Andrew Greely noted the same phenomenon: “Mystics are happier.” Ralph Hood has demonstrated a correlation between high scores on a scale of mystical experience and measures of mental health. Prof. Hay notes that studies on mysticism and mental health refute Sigmund Freud’s hypothesis that religion was symptomatic of neurosis and religious experience was perhaps temporary psychosis. Hay further notes that studies in England, the United States, and Australia consistently show that mysticism is more apt to be reported by people in the upper-middle and professional middle classes rather than the lower classes. This disproves the Marxist hypothesis that religion is the “opiate of the masses.” Also, the hypothesis of the sociologist Dirkheim that religious experience is typically an “effervescent group phenomenon,” is refuted by a Gallup Poll survey in Britain in 1987 which found that 60% of accounts of religious experience occurred in the context of solitude.
Research into the mental health of those who have mystical experiences has shown mystical experiencers to be normal or healthy. My own feeling is that this may be due to the fact that it takes a certain amount of guts to come forward and tell others that you have been personally touched by God. This has become easier over the past forty years because research in the social sciences has documented that mystical experiences are common. Still, the tendency is for people not to come forward with mystical experiences unless they are sure that the people listening will accept them.
Differentiating from the Occult
People who engage in occult practices like to pretend their practices are mystic, but there is an easy test to determine the difference. The occult has to do with manipulating the paranormal for selfish personal ends such as influencing a person to become your lover, inflicting ill upon a person (as in the case of Voodoo dolls), or seeing the future with the intent of changing an outcome in your own favor. The most famous example of occult practices is found in the Book of 1st Samuel (I Sam 28:3-16) in which King Saul asks the medium of Endor to perform necromancy and conger up the spirit of the dead prophet Samuel in order to foresee the outcome of the next day’s battle. In short, the occult is all about, “me, me, me!” Mysticism is about God and from God. Nothing evil ever comes from God (Jas 1:12-17). Whereas mystical experiences are positive and lead to happiness, psychologist Michael Argyle notes occult experiences have the opposite effect.
Research on Children
Interestingly, children’s acknowledgment of the presence of God declines with age. When Finnish researcher Kalevi Tamminen asked children ages 7 to 20, “Have you at times felt that God was particularly close to you?”, 84% of the first-graders acknowledged the presence of God. Interestingly, by the end of high school, the number had declined to 47%. The modern world is often hostile to spirituality. There is also evidence that people may have mystical experiences but deny them. Carl Sagan, the famous physicist, once stated that he had felt on several occasions that his dead parents had tried to contact him, but he dismissed this as being impossible. He is unusual, as most people alter their beliefs when confronted with their own personal experience. On this topic, almost 40% of Americans report contact with the dead, according to the National Opinion Research Center.
Despite the incredible variety of human beings and human cultures, all true mystical religious experiences have an underlying similarity. Most importantly, mystics never “let go” of their experience, and it permanently alters their perspective on life. For those who know this experience personally, as well as for those who are gaining these insights vicariously, I wanted to present some of the powerfully moving accounts of mystical religious experiences expressed in the words of the mystics themselves. These cases give a greater insight into the experience itself as well as its effect on the individual.
I will begin with two of my own mystical religious experiences which were spontaneous. The first was one that is quite commonly reported. In fact, in a sermon some years ago, Rev. Horace Westwood described his own mystical experience that was virtually identical to this one of mine:
It occurred in the winter of 1973 when I was 29 and a doctoral student in psychology at the University of Northern Colorado. “Late one cold afternoon, I was in the parking lot with my back to the panorama of the Rocky Mountains, looking instead at a small dead tree in a snow bank. All at once, I was lifted up, and I was one with God and the Universe. I felt timeless and immortal. A few moments later, I was back to my normal state, but the moment has never left me. It left me knowing that we are all a part of God and that God is with us always.”
Mystical experiences can happen at any time. St. Teresa had a mystical experience while cooking eggs for her convent — she reportedly burned the eggs! My second mystical experience occurred during my mid-forties while teaching at the University of Houston:
“I was at a football game in the Astrodome, waiting in the concession line. All at once, I felt as if I were inside the minds of all the people around me and that I could feel what they were feeling. I could feel their happiness, their love for their friends and family, and their joy at being together. Though it only lasted for a few moments, it was like tapping into the Spirit of God.” I had often wondered what God gets out of Creation, and I got an answer that day: God gets to be all of us!
Mystical experiences vary widely from mild to overwhelming. Mine were definitely not of the magnitude of St. Paul or even Ralph Waldo Emerson, but I present them as examples of mild mystical experiences.
The following account is from a 56-year-old British female, one of the modern cases from Alister Hardy’s Religious Experience Research Unit at Oxford University that appeared in his book, The Spiritual Nature of Man:
On this occasion I found instead that I was overtaken by an intense feeling of affection for and unity with everyone around as they ran to catch buses, took children shopping, or joyfully met their friends. The feeling was so strong that I wanted to leave my silent vigil and join them in their urgent living. This sense of ‘Oneness’ is basic to what I understand of religion. Hitherto I think I had only experienced it so irresistibly towards a few individuals — sometimes toward my children or when in love. The effect of the experience has been, I think, a permanent increase in my awareness that we are ‘members one of another,’ a consequent greater openness toward all and a widening of my concern for others.
The next account appeared in the 1937 edition of the Universalist magazine, The Christian Leader and is from author Mary Austin who had a mystical experience as a child:
I must have been between 7 and 8, when this experience happened to me. It was a summer morning, and the child I was had walked down through the orchard alone and come out on the brow of a sloping hill where there was grass and the wind blowing and one tall tree reaching into the infinite immensities of blueness. Quite suddenly, after a moment of quietness there, earth and sky and tree and windblown grass and the child in the midst of them came alive together with a pulsing light of consciousness. There was a wild foxglove at the child’s feet and a bee dozing about. And to this day, I recall the swift inclusive awareness of each for the whole — I in them, and they in me, and all of us enclosed in a warm, lucent bubble of livingness. I remember the child looking everywhere for the source of this happy wonder, and at last she questioned — ‘God’ — because it was the only awesome word she knew. Deep inside like the murmurous swinging of a bell she heard the answer, ‘God, God.’ How long this ineffable moment lasted I never knew. It broke like a bubble at the sudden singing of a bird, and the wind blew and the world was the same as ever, only never quite the same.
|The great contemporary Universalist theologian, John Hick… notes that he too has had mystical experiences that convinced him, “we know the Transcendent Holy Presence to be profoundly good to exist and in which the unknown future holds no possible threat.”|
Obviously, how people interpret their experience depends on their time and culture. Regarding my own mystical experiences, I freely admit that these experiences reinforced my belief that God communicates with human beings. I also interpret them in the same way as the great contemporary Universalist theologian, John Hick, who notes that he too has had mystical experiences that convinced him, “we know the Transcendent Holy Presence to be profoundly good to exist and in which the unknown future holds no possible threat.”
The following are two mystical religious experiences of John Hick, the world’s foremost Universalist / pluralist philosopher, extracted from his autobiography. His first mystical experience (which was spontaneous) occurred at age 18 years while riding on the top deck of a bus:
As everyone will be very conscious who can themselves remember such a moment, all descriptions are inadequate. But it was as though the skies opened up and light poured down and filled me with a sense of overflowing joy, in response to an immense transcendent goodness and love. I remember that I couldn’t help smiling broadly — smiling back, as it were, at God — though if any of the other passengers were looking, they must have thought that I was a lunatic, grinning at nothing.
His next mystical experience was the “sought-after” variety and occurred many years later when Dr. Hick was practicing Buddhist meditation:
I have once, but so far only once, experienced what was to me a startling breakthrough into a new form or level of consciousness. I was in that second stage … and when eventually I opened my eyes the world was quite different in two ways. Whereas normally I am here, and the environment is there, separate from me, there was now no such distinction; and more importantly, the total universe of which I was part was friendly, benign, good, so that there could not possibly be anything to fear or worry about. It was a state of profound delight in being. This only lasted a short time, probably not more than two minutes.
The great 20th-Century mystical researcher, Evelyn Underhill, was herself a mystic. Early in her career, she described herself as a “passionate amateur of experience” and was very much interested in comparative religion. Later in her career, because of her mystical experiences, she identified herself primarily as a Christian, although she continued to be interested in world religion. The following mystical experience occurred to her in 1923 at the age of 48 years and is at the time of her centering on Christianity. This account is from Armstrong’s biography of her:
Such lights as one gets are now different in type: all overwhelming in their emotional result: quite independent ‘sensible devotion’, more quiet, calm, expansive, like intellectual intuitions yet not quite that either. Thus yesterday I saw and felt how it actually is, that we are in Christ and he is in us — the interpretation of the Spirit — and all of us merged together in him actually, and so fitly described as his body. The way to full intercessory power must, I think, be along this path.
The following is an account of a middle-aged female from Dr. Richard Bucke’s Cosmic Consciousness:
I was losing my consciousness, my identity, I was powerless to hold myself. Now came a period of rapture so intense that the Universe stood still, as if amazed at the unutterable majesty of the spectacle! Only one in all the infinite Universe! The All-loving, the Perfect One! The Perfect Wisdom, truth, love, and purity! And with the rapture came the insight. In that same wonderful moment of what might be called supernatural bliss, came illumination… What joy when I saw there was no break in the chain — not a link left out — everything in its time and place. Worlds, systems, all bended in one harmonious whole. Universal light, synonymous with Universal love!
In this account from Cosmic Consciousness, a 35 year old journalist, Paul Tyner, describes “the crowning experience of my life:”
Now, indeed, it is plain, that being lifted up he shall lift all men with him-has lifted, is lifting and must ever continue to lift out of the very essence of his transcendent humanity. Immortality is no longer an hypothesis of the theologian, a figment of the imagination, a dream of the poet. Men shall live forever, because man, invincible to all effects of time and change, and even of murderous violence, lives today in the fullness of life and power that he enjoyed in his thirty-third year, with only added glory of goodness and greatness and beauty… This is the truth given age upon age to all men in all lands, and persistently misunderstood — the truth at last to be seen of all men in its fullness and purity.
|Hannah Whitall Smith… a writer and the wife of a Quaker minister… relates two mystical religious experiences of Universalism [in her book]. Interestingly, some “Christian” publishers delete this chapter on Universalism.|
Hannah Whitall Smith was a writer and the wife of a Quaker minister. In Chapter 22 of her book, The Unselfishness of God and How I Discovered It, she relates two mystical religious experiences of Universalism. Interestingly, some “Christian” publishers delete this chapter on Universalism. She writes:
And with this a veil seemed to be withdrawn from before the plans of the universe, and I saw that it was true, as the Bible says, that ‘as in Adam all die, even so in Christ should all be made alive.’ As was the first, even so was the second. The ‘all’ in one case could not in fairness mean less than the ‘all’ in the other. I saw therefore that the remedy must necessarily be equal to the disease, the salvation must be as universal as the fall… God is the Creator of every human being, therefore He is the Father of each one, and they are all His children; and Christ died for every one, and is declared to be ‘the propitiation not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world’ (1 John 2:2). However great the ignorance therefore, or however grievous the sin, the promise of salvation is positive and without limitations… The how and the when I could not see; but the one essential fact was all I needed — somewhere and somehow God was going to make every thing right for all the creatures He had created. My heart was at rest about it forever.
This next account of a Universalist mystical experience is from Sir Hardy’s The Spiritual Nature of Man, and describes Rev. Dr. Leslie Weatherhead’s youthful experience:
This is the only way I know in which to describe the moment, for there was nothing to see at all. I felt caught up into some tremendous sense of being within a loving, triumphant and shining purpose. I never felt more humble. I never felt more exalted. A most curious, but overwhelming sense possessed me and filled me with ecstasy. I felt that all was well for mankind-how poor the words seem! The word ‘well’ is so poverty stricken. All men were shining and glorious beings who in the end would enter incredible joy. Beauty, music, joy, love immeasurable and a glory unspeakable they would inherit. Of this they were heirs.
In this account from Prof. David Hay’s Exploring Inner Space, a female writer recalls a mystical religious experience from childhood — an account that echoes an experience of the famous mystic Julian of Norwich:
My father used to take all the family for a walk on Sunday evenings. On one such walk, we wandered across a narrow path through a field of high, ripe corn. I lagged behind, and found myself alone. Suddenly, heaven blazed upon me. I was enveloped in golden light, I was conscious of a presence, so kind, so loving, so bright, so consoling, so commanding, existing apart from me but so close. I heard no sound. But words fell into my mind quite clearly — ‘Everything is all right. Everybody will be all right.’
The following account is that of Richard Bucke, a Canadian neuropsychiatrist and scholar of comparative religion whose mystical religious experience inspired him to research and write Cosmic Consciousness:
All at once, without warning of any kind, I found myself wrapped in a flame-colored cloud. For an instant I thought of fire, an immense conflagration somewhere close by in that great city; the next, I knew that the fire was within myself. Directly afterward there came upon me a sense of exultation, of immense joyousness accompanied or immediately followed by an intellectual illumination impossible to describe. Among other things, I did not merely come to believe, but I saw that the universe is not composed of dead matter, but is, on the contrary, a living Presence; I became conscious in myself of eternal life. It was not a conviction that I would have eternal life, but a consciousness that I possessed eternal life then; I saw that all men are immortal; that the cosmic order is such that without any peradventure all things work together for the good of each and all; that the foundation principle of the world, of all the worlds, is what we call love, and that the happiness of each and all is in the long run absolutely certain. The vision lasted a few seconds and was gone; but the memory of it and the sense of the reality of what it taught has remained during the quarter of a century which has since elapsed. I knew that what the vision showed was true. I had attained to a point of view from which I saw that it must be true. That view, that conviction, I may say that consciousness, has never, even during periods of the deepest depression, been lost.
The following is an account of a 55-year-old male taken from Prof. Timothy Beardsworth’s A Sense of Presence:
One lunch time I had been helping to dry dishes after the meal, and was standing before the open drawer of the sideboard putting knives and forks away. I was not thinking of anything, apart from vague attention to the job I was doing. Suddenly, without warning, I was flooded with the most intense blue-white light I have ever seen. Words can never adequately nor remotely touch the depth of this experience. It was like looking into the face of the sun, magnified several times in its light-intensity. It would be truer to say that I lost all sense of self in a total immersion in Light. But more ‘real’ than the Light itself was the unbearable ecstasy that accompanied it. All sense of time or self disappeared, yet it could only have been a fraction of a second. I knew only a sense of infinite dimension, and a knowledge that this was the Spirit of God Almighty, which was the hidden Life-Light-Love in all men, all life and all creation. I knew that nothing existed apart from this Spirit. It was infinite Love, Peace, Law, Power, Creation and the Ultimate Truth and Perfection. It was all Wisdom, Tolerance, Understanding and Eternal Life for all people. I also knew that had I been suffering from any so- called incurable disease whatsoever, I would have become instantly whole. Then after the fraction of a second — I became myself again, still standing beside the open drawer putting knives and forks away. That one moment was and remains the most vital moment of my life, for there has never been a repetition. But out of it was born the Mission to which I have for many years dedicated my life…
Regarding mystical religious experiences, it is valid to say that 1) They happen to a large percent of the population, 2) The overwhelming majority of those people are normal, healthy, and no more apt to be mentally ill than the general population, and 3) They change people’s lives.
Modern accounts assure us that truly God is with us always, and that in time, “All flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Lk 3:6). Until then, the Bible can be our source for accessing the Holy Spirit promised to us by Jesus, and Jesus’ teachings instruct us in the way to build the Kingdom of God within our midst. Testimony of those in the Bible and that of the mystics assure us all that God is there for all of us, and mystical religious experiences serve as a continuing reminder of the loving presence of God in our lives.
The Spirit of God has been and is with us always.
There is no doubt we live in God.
Ken R. Vincent, Ed.D., is Webmaster of Universalist-Herald.net. Dr. Vincent served as a founding Board member of the Christian Universalist Association.