Until about the age of fifteen years, I had transcendental experiences when in church. My relationship with the stone gothic architecture, the flickering candles, the choir supported by organ music and the pealing bells made me feel part of a bigger whole. And I knew exactly where I was. I had been instructed in scripture classes that I was in God's house.
The stained glass windows, with the light streaming through, were emotionally uplifting for me. The saints in the stained glass wore glowing halos. That was many years ago. Since then I have learned that psychiatrists have determined that the saints' seeing of visions and the hearing of voices were diagnostic of schizophrenic behaviour. They were not holy. They were mentally ill. An interesting revelation, but a disappointing one.
The science of cold facts has the potential to impoverish the inner self when replacing fantasies which enrich the inner self. The language of emotion is colours, shapes, textures, sounds and smells. There are none in a schematic diagram, an equation or a formula. I have no problem with the abandonment of fantasies - providing an empty shell is not all that remains.
The eminent biologist Charles Birch knew that feelings are 100% pure chemistry. As a feeling person, he also knew that there was more. So, 100% is not 100%.
The religious know that all is not what it seems. But their assumption of a supernatural presence is wrong. By the end of this century, science will have painted a picture of a world within a world. It will be a world of particles that don't quite exist, of hidden aspects of energy which do not interact with our physical instruments and where consciousness plays a decisive role in the behaviour of matter. Like Alice, homo sapiens are on the verge of stepping into wonderland. But it is not in the supernatural. It lies wholly within the natural.
In the meantime, the formal structure of the church is being destroyed by the truth - leaving a steadily increasing population of those not able to transcend beyond their relationships, their possessions and their work. How, then, can you and I have a spiritual experience which is not a delusion - that is, an experience not described by a psychiatrist or neuroscientist as being pathological?
Transcendence on tap
I regularly walk through a forest close to where I live. I will stop to sit on a rock to watch the movement of the leaves in the breeze. I watch the clouds pass overhead. In the late afternoon I watch the changing play of light and shadow and the deepening colours. But it is the shape of the ageless rock faces that move me the most. I can understand how our First Peoples imagined their ancestors to be in them.
There is one track that I have been walking for over 40 years - and each time I would notice what I had not seen before. That is because I have left the organised man-made environment which rapidly becomes familiar to be in an environment of complete randomness. Random patterns are near-impossible to remember.
I would never tire of this experience for as long as I live because it makes me feel good about my existence. You could say that I feel spiritual. The word means to feel to be part of a bigger whole.
Now, I know that every electro-chemical driven movement of every particle within every tree does what it does so that there will be a following generation of the species. Every living organism is a pure mechanism for reproduction - end of the scientific story. But, when I see a very old tree, I like to put my hand on it and feel the spirit within it. There is no spirit, of course. Nevertheless, I am enriched by my irrational intuition that there is.
So, the scientifically established facts have to be kept within a separate compartment of my mind - and, like Charles Birch - I have to have two minds. One is to feel holistic when I learn what I can about the physical universe as science has revealed - and the other is to feel holistic when I become 'aborigine'.
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