Faith vs. Direct Experience: Reflecting on Two Paths

Direct Experience of the DivineNote: My intention is not to offend anyone – not you, not them, not ever. I write from my own personal experiences and observations and the last thing I seek is agreement or argument. But if you find yourself offended I invite you to examine yourself, your beliefs, and the place in which you stand that invites the feeling of offense.

In the Beginning

I once held to faith as the essence and edifice of religious experience, my shield from the storms of doubt, reason, and scrutiny. Faith was my unfailing ally in an imagined battle against unseen enemies.

Faith in ‘God’, Yahweh, Jesus, Yahshua, Mary, the Bible, the Torah and other sacred texts, Abraham, Moses, Ellen G. White, popes, prophets, and saints. Faith in any other authority and word but my own.

Faith against doubt, unbelief,  secularism, heresy, and forces of evil in manifest and unmanifest form while ignorant of my own shadows.

Faith, reassuring faith, even if wavering at times, in something – a person, or persona, an idea, a book, a tradition, a declaration, a creed, a ‘history’ – unseen, not experienced, not self-generated but inherited like a tarnished, silver, empty locket wrapped in stories and myth of this ancestor or that event – past, distant, dead.

Then emerged the wrecking ball of direct experience, ‘mystical’ experience, laying waste the lifeless edifice of illusory, enervating faith. Lying in the heap of this wreckage were the god, savior, and book I once devoted myself to.

Nevertheless, my faith, as practiced, was not a willy-nilly profession of any dogma but an invigorating force in my life inspiring the kind of action and change that compelled me to inquire thoughtfully, pray earnestly, and observe carefully. It was just enough to uphold the wizard of illusion sheltered by my indoctrination.

Yet, this faith, as dynamic as it was, or seemed to be, was not enough for me. Ironically,  it was faith and not any devil or heresy that proved to be the very obstacle to my desired experience of the Divine. Faith proved sufficient for my indoctrinated mind so that the idea of a direct experience of the Divine was unnecessary and unthinkable. Direct experience, I believed, was the domain of ancient holy prophets acting out high-level Human dramas recorded in sacred script.

Believe!

‘Believe!’ I was told, sermon after sermon. ‘Believe!’ I was told, and God would accept me and honor me for my faith. Believe in the Lord, in Jesus, and in the Bible that bears record of their dealings with Humanity. Believe in the Bible as literal history and as the provider of answers to what ails the soul.

This belief functioned essentially as a rear view mirror giving view to the past where all needed precedent was established for present action and prohibitions. Trouble is that it doesn’t work. Try steering a car forward while looking in the rear view mirror and you’ll understand why I say that.

How curious it is, then, that this rear-view approach is what religions rely on and promote through a brilliant, glorious history filled with images of passion and mystery. Religions seek to shed light borrowed from the ‘past’ (the quotes allude to my suspicion of much that qualifies as history) and shine it down the dark tunnel of time leading to a lost, soulless present. The past is alive. Only the present is dead. Something is terribly wrong with this.

Direct experience, on the other hand, is rooted in the present, in the now, and grounds us in the same. It is only our interpretation of the experience that might refer to some past learning, but if we allow ourselves to remain in the open spaces of inquiry and receptivity without giving in to the temptation of assigning to it any acquired meaning then the hidden word enfolded within the experience will be heard by us and we will be enlightened thereby.

By faith one might believe in spirits and spiritual dimensions. By experience one knows it is real even if one does not understand how, what, and why. Experience, like faith, does not promise understanding, at least not immediately. It has to season in the marrow of time and contemplation before it can be served as wisdom.

Where’s the Proof? Here’s the Power!

Faith is promoted as the evidence of things not seen. The majority of Humans operate on faith. Believing in things we’ve never experienced, we go around quoting others’ words as our authority. The modern world promotes facts over faith but it smells like the same……stuff.

It’s quoted, for example, that the sun is about 93 million miles from Earth, or about 150 million km. Do I know this for sure? Absolutely not. I myself never measured the distance so I cannot say that I truly know. I’ve never had the experience that establishes this as a truth for me. I can only trust what others have said based on their research and/or experience.

Nor do I know how and why the United States was created; I don’t know how life and the universe came into existence; I don’t know that Humans evolved from ‘lesser’ life-forms or were created on the ‘6th day’; I don’t know how or why the pyramids in Egypt were built. But I can site different sources and regurtitate what I read. But that ain’t experience – that’s faith. How ironic to find that faith is not confined to the religious world and that much of what is regarded as ‘scientific’ are variant forms of faith-based religion, if you will. How are those who believe and trust in the word of the scientist any different from those who believe and trust in the word of the prelate?

If faith is the evidence of things unseen then why press for a direct experience? And this reasonable logic (more irony!) is the very trap that ensnares billions of Humans, religious and non-religious, on this planet.

It’s one thing to pray for something to happen and then have faith that it’s going to happen; and it’s a whole ‘nother thing entirely to pray and make it happen by your own inner authority.

It’s one thing to quote facts and figures; and it’s a whole ‘nother thing to make direct discovery, to become your own scientist, healer, teacher.

One places you in a passive position.

In the other, you are the protagonist experiencing yourself as a channel and center of power, setting things in motion. And this to me is more aligned with our potential and purpose as Human Beings.

The man of faith seeks his authority in a Supreme Being – or in books, courses, experts, and/or educational institutions and degrees – separate from himself, originating outside of his domain of experience and experiential knowledge.

The man of experience comes to understand, however brightly or dimly, only union with the Divine and that this Divine Power is not to be entreated but expressed. The man of experience trusts his own experiences primarily, or even solely if he advances enough, and with deeper wisdom understands that even his own experiences are subjective, subject to his personal knowledge, understanding, and their limitations until a brighter, impartial light shines. But the point here is that he stands on his own ground and not another’s.

I’ve had direct experiences that have shone a penetrating light on things which I once believed to be absolute truth, piercing my armor of faith in ways that terrified my indoctrinated mind while liberating my soul in degrees. Consistently challenged by the answers to my prayers for deepest intimacy with Creator, with Spirit, with Life, I learned, by experience, to identify these patterns of difficulty and to endure them as the necessary travails that precede a new birth. Shedding the skin of old, misguided, undeveloped ideas exposes the raw flesh of conditioned fears and unanswered questions. I abide in the constant vulnerability of the newborn, and here I am home.

All of this is not to say that I refuse any and all assertions, teachings, or ideas that comes through others, through books or by whatever channels I am exposed to in my healing voyage. It’s just that I now have a basis of authority, however incomplete, that rests primarily within the realm of my own soul.

And this I’ve learned, and continue to learn and practice, through direct experience.

 

 

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