Mystical Experiences of God

My most formative religious experiences were a series of mystical experiences. They began to occur in my early thirties. They changed my understanding of the meaning of the word “God”-of what that word points to-and gave me an unshakable conviction that God (or “the sacred”) is real and can be experienced.

These experiences also convinced me that mystical forms of Christianity are true, and that the mystical forms of all the enduring religions of the world are true.

My experiences were what scholars of mysticism call “extravertive” or “eyes open” mystical experiences (the other type is “introvertive” or “eyes closed”). I saw the same visual “landscape” – a forest, a room, the inside of an airliner – that I normally see. There were no extra beings, no angels.

For a minute or two (and once for the better part of an hour), what I was seeing looked very different. Light became different – as if there were a radiance shining through everything. The biblical phrase for this is “the glory of God” – as the book of Isaiah puts it, “the earth is filled with the glory – the radiance – of God. The world was transfigured, even as it remained “the same.” And I experienced a falling away of the subject-object distinction that marks our ordinary everyday experience – that sense of being a separate self, “in here,” while the world is “out there.”

They were experiences of wonder – not of curiosity, but of what the 20th century Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel called “radical amazement.”

They were also experiences in which I felt that I was seeing more clearly than I ever had before – that what I was experiencing was “the way things are.” And they were also experiences of complete peacefulness, marked by a sense that I would love to stay in this mental state forever. Anxiety and distraction utterly disappeared. Everything looked beautiful.

When I had these experiences, I had no intellectual understanding of mysticism. Indeed, whenever I tried to read mystical writings, they seemed like gobbledy-gook. I had no idea what they were about – they were completely opaque. But after these experiences, mystical texts became luminous. I recognized in them what I had experienced.

The effect was to transform my understanding of the word “God.” I began to understand that the word does not refer to a person-like being “out there,” beyond the universe – an understanding of “God” that ceased to be persuasive in my teens and twenties.

I began to understand that the word “God” refers to “what is” experienced as wondrous and compelling, as, to use William James’ phrase, “the more” which is all around us. Or to use a phrase from the New Testament, the word “God” refers to “the one in whom we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17.28). “God” is not a hypothesis, but a reality who can be known.

Thus, to argue about whether God exists seems to me to be based on a misunderstanding of what the word points to. If “God” means a person-like being “out there,” completely separate from the universe, then I am an atheist. I do not believe there is such a being. But if the word “God” points to a radiance that pervades “what is,” as I now think – then, of course, God is real. Not just the God of Christianity, but the God of all the enduring religions.

Originally posted on The Washington Post website.

49 Comments

49 Comments

  1. This is beautiful. I couldn’t agree more. The cosmic judge/man concept has kept me away for a very long time. Only recently, after reading some of your work and talking with a couple of very bright and open-minded ministers, have I been able to affirm my belief in a power that I have always felt.

  2. I have been thinking about what is God for several years now and expect that I will for the rest of my life.

    I record what I discover – discovered through contemplation, conversation, and reading. The current version of “God is…” has just been posted on the [D]mergent.com website, where I am a contributor. I am posting the link instead of the article because of the length of the article.

    An original impetus for this on-going personal reflection comes from “Living the Questions 2.0″ where, early in the study, the question is asked, “What is the character of your God?”

    http://dmergent.org/2010/07/02/god-is-3/

    • A Serious Beginning

      A serious beginning to the day,
      Beautiful sky, uplifted, gray,
      Thoughts of God like a prayer,
      Takes all in, asks nothing for myself
      But only this. Please stay, long
      Enough that I can think of those
      I love, and those I’ll never know
      And see myself among them,
      Hear their song, feel their need,
      Know that we are much the same.

      A presence rises up inside me
      Gives shape to who I am
      And who I might become.
      Asks, Why?
      The word won’t leave me,
      Why am I here? And then
      Why not? Before an answer comes.
      The question stays before me
      As mystery, not something given
      Just to me, but asked of all
      The world. Our struggle up
      The mountain top, and then
      The view, both thirst and
      Water, the hurt before the healing,
      We have been given answers
      Deep that will not be let go,
      Not all things to one, but one
      Thing to all, found only for
      Us each, but each in separate
      Ways to see the beauty, hear
      The voice telling us to care,
      To love, to let our breath go
      Out to all who live,
      And breathe in all
      The world can give.

      August 2, 2010, Don Taylor

      • Dear Don,
        This is beautiful! Thank you for sharing your gift of words in poetry with us. What a gift you have – what a gift we now have!

  3. Hello, I was hoping you could write a book about terms (sin, salvation. etc.) used in Christianity and provide metaphysical language to do so. Sincerely, David Ellis in Houston

    • Roderic Delaney

      David
      After waiting a few months, “Speaking Christian, Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power – and How They Can Be Restored” by Marcus J. Borg must be exactly that for which you were waiting. Several of us locally purchased it and are absorbing it. It has been used as the prime resource for the meditations in our church for the past month. Excellent.

  4. I’ve had mystical experiences with God before-most notably when I was part of a pentecostal church and although I now disregard the theology, I remember the experiences and hope to have some again. It just seems that mainline churches aren’t really open to “mystical” experiences…which has been hard for me.

    It’s hard to explain to my Atheist friends, fundmentalist friends, basically to anyone who has never had a mystical experience with God, how I know that He/She is real and that he/she isn’t a seperate being that is waiting to judge us and condemn us to hell, but is here with us…

  5. Nice post. Interesting comment Naiomi, I too have come from a pentecostal/charismatic background. What I wonder if its a definition and language. That ‘Word of knowledge’ ‘Prophesy’ is just the same as the ‘Mystical’ experience?

    • A “word of knowledge” and a “prophecy” have specific, verbalizable content; quite often they are without accompanying emotional content, usually they are without fanfare or visual effects. A mystical experience is almost defined as being emotional, being visual, and usually without a specific verbal content. At least this is my take on it based on observation and experience. For such reason as this I am skeptical about basing much “religion” on mystical experiences.

  6. Fantastic website and great posts!! My experience of the Divine has come primarily through nature……most notably through my involvement and relationship with Equus and their use in healing people. To experience the mystical power these animals provide is to be transported into the presence of a “Power Greater than.” This means one must constantly be in the present in order to be able to understand (listen to) and communicate using that which is more than words. These animals have enhanced my understanding and belief in the Spirit that is involved in and part of all creation!

  7. Eleanor Johnston

    Marcus,
    Your description of your mystical experience has all the characteristics of the several such meetings with the holy that I’ve treasured. The first occurred in my early teens:

    One summer Sunday afternoon, my family was settling down to read and snooze. It was my turn to take the cows out of the barnyard and down the lane to the flats, the meadow beside our unnamed creek. The cows began their lazy procession out the gate, past the corn silo on one side and the manure pile on the other. In the lane, most trudged along passively. A few tried to reach under the fence to fresh grass. Old ones moved only when I swatted them on the flank with a stick. Moving the herd along, I hummed a hymn from the morning service, a perfect summer song of praise.

    For a marvelous moment I was surrounded by God’s radiant joy. The breeze that felt like world-inhaling, divine breath played with my hair and stroked my face and arms. Wherever I looked, everything was shining: the collie, the fence wires and the water in the trough.

    This lasted a few moments and half a century. On perfect summer days I remember “All things bright and beautiful.”

    The fact that individuals have very similar mystical experiences suggests that in every society and religion there are some (a minority? probably) who are hard-wired to have them. Could this be God’s or The Source of Being’s (or ….) way of communicating with us that life is blessed?

    Remember the psychic rabbit in Watership Down? He would have painful, fearful insights that he articulated as prophetic warnings for his fellows. And the Greek soothsayers, at least those who weren’t faking it, seemed helpless in the hands of the gods. Likewise for native shamans. Why was your direct contact with the divine, like mine, basically happy?

    I think that spiritual people need to work with artists, the most likely group in our society to be an instrument or voice or dancer of God. Face to face.

    • Such a mystical experience is a gift, purely and simply, “from someone I don’t know but who seems to know me quite well”. It is an anonymous gift. Use it to pursue the One behind the gift, not of course in order to get other gifts, but because any One who can give gifts like that is worth knowing on their own terms.

  8. I just finished The First Paul and wanted to read about the author/s.

    A mystic and biblical scholar. I love it.

    After giving three healing touch sessions I can walk out to a wide grassy space and find myself enfolded in love and light and God. The grass, trees, foilage and birds all speak peace. I am visioning and wanted to build an Interfaith worship and Peace and Justice Center in Arkansas. With God’s help, maybe it will be time for it.

    Please keep writing.

    Peace, Janet

  9. Hey Marcus, I am glad to see that you are blogging now! I hope all is well with you!

  10. While there is validity and usefulness to these super-natural or more-than-natural experiences – experiences that deserve to be remembered, cherished, and contemplated – they are not the only mystical experiences.

    Mystical experiences can arise out of great tragedy and the ensuing grief and the coping and the wrestling to make sense of it all.

    In a separate posting, you might want to deal with this aspect of the mystical as well as the concept of “forgiveness.”

    Peace,
    Doug

  11. I’ve had numerous painless migraines that seem to be similar to your mystic episodes. My vision field is suffused with light. I am in accord with your notion of “God” and along with Tillich et al. am more attuned with a world ground… Am ready to begin reading your new novel. By the way this gender nonsense is pretty tiring to read about yet again. We need to get over it here in the States where it is far from the issue it is abroad. Loved Jesus 2000 wish you could mount another such gathering with such an array of scholars. Reprise but let the scholars move
    forward Religion 2010 would be a worthy project on line or off.

  12. I am a 73 year-old raised by a wonderful fundamentalist mother. Taking the Bible literally worked for her but does not work for me. “Taking the Bible Seriously but not Literally” works perfectly for me. I have read some of Spong, and I have purchased your “The Heart of Christianity” and “Reading the Bible Again for the First Time”. I would like to spend considerable time reading more of your books, Crossan’s and Spong’s; so I’ll begin with your “The Heart – then where do I go from there? I’m glad I found you.

    Thank you. Jim

  13. I must say that as a former fundamentalist and current atheist, I am as skeptical of the “old man in the sky” image of God as I am of the “ground of all being” image of God. Yet most everyone who has posted in this thread obviously thinks that they had some sort of God-experience. Your descriptions make it sound as if your experience was simply about recognizing the sheer beauty and awesomeness of our world and our universe. If God is defined as that awesomeness, then I, too, affirm the reality of God. But if that’s the case, you really should abandon the word “God” altogether. God, by this new definition, is an emotional state or emotional awareness of human beings. It is not an objective reality that exists independently of human beings. Thus, I would argue that to call it “God” is extraordinarily misleading.

    • I must say that I agree strongly with what Paul says here. I, like Paul, am a former fundamentalist, but unlike him I have not ended up as an atheist. I, like Dr. Borg and others who have posted, have had a “mystical experience”, but unlike Dr. Borg I pursued the Jesus defined in the Christian tradition as a result. What I find most objectionable in what Dr. Borg seems to say is his insistence on using the words of Christian tradition all the while endowing them with new definitions quite alien to the original. Every scholar in every field, except apparently in theology, knows that when you change the definition of a word you must introduce a new word. Otherwise you simply introduce confusion. To choose a ludicrous example if I change the meanings of words like “bourgeoise” and “proletariat” and “free market” and “communal” I could well sound like a Marxist all the while supporting the Tea Party. But it wouldn’t be very honest. I would feel a lot more comfortable with Dr. Borg if he would quit using terms whose definitions he has altered and be more upfront with what he is really saying.
      A person who has a mystical experience should never ignore that experience. But mystical experiences frequently don’t have any content, verbal or otherwise. They leave us to pursue our own inclinations and ideas, and I don’t see any particular value in doing that. For me, the experiences I had turned me away from pursuing the things I wanted and back to investigating the things the I didn’t want. I did not go back to fundamentalism, but I had to wrestle my way in to what was behind it. A mystical experience is only a beginning to the pursuit of truth, not the goal. If you don’t have one, it matters not at all. If you do have one then take care that you do not pursue the vision and end up like a dog chasing its own tail.

  14. I too have been searching for a new way to connect to God and Jesus that is more authentic for me while I am skeptical… ok, doubtful, of a theistic “in the sky” intervening God. However, if ‘God’ is within all living things and the ‘ground of being,’ then what does ‘worship’ mean? Who or what is being praised? What is prayer in such a world – maybe a form of meditation?

    I have pondered how ‘God’ can be the life-force that is non-sentient yet direct humans in a moral direction unless ‘loving ones neighbor’ is the only reasonable result that can be determined by millions of seekers for meaning over time within cultures globally.

    I appreciate the respect and thoughtfulness of the commenters in this blog – pretty rare to find. Thank you.

  15. I am not a biblical scholar, and am not interested in convincing anyone of the validity of mystical experiences, nor the Truth found in Christianity or any of the “enduring religions.” I recognize that we all have our own path, and I believe God can reach us wherever we are, as long as we are stilling ourselves enough to listen. My own experience, however, has been a sense of “knowing” that is not related to emotions nor cognitive processing.

    I grew up within a conservative (though not technically “fundamentalist”) church and community, and went through many years of anguish because I could not believe what I’d been taught, yet felt that there was something “More.” I did not have a “mystical experience,” in the sense it is being described in Dr. Borg’s article. For me, it was most like a gradual sense of everything “clicking”…all the searching I’d done for years, the research into Eastern Religions, my yoga practice, meditation, the message I was now getting from the Protestant church in which I grew up…It all came together like one of those drawings you stare at, trying to find the picture within, and suddenly it pops out at you. Once you see it, you can never “not see it” again. Once you know, you can’t “unknow.” No one can convince you otherwise. It becomes a sense of seeing “God” as the Reality that is.

    I think Matt poses a good question: What are we worshipping? I don’t have an answer to that…I think Dr. Borg addresses that somewhat in his section in “The Heart of Christianity” when he talks about his disbelief in “interventionist prayer.” For me, I feel a need to express a sense of love and gratitude to this “Reality that Is,” because I feel a support and love that comes from it, and I cannot explain in words what that sense is. Before I’d experienced it, nothing anyone said, no intellectual nor emotional reasoning would have conveyed this to me. As Lao Tzu said, “The Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao.” It is ineffable. “I Am.”

  16. But “I Am” is an interventionist name. It was the name He took just before the largest scale intervention ever imagined by a God. The Bible is entirely from an interventionist view point and to reject interventionism is to reject that whole mindset, and I might add, the whole mindset of Christianity over the millenia. Continuing to use Christian jargon without the Christian mindset is misleading.
    So what are we worshiping? How can that ever be answered if the god we intend to worship is so far removed from life that we never actually deal with him? How can we worship what does not respond? To discard a God who intervenes makes no sense to me. There would seem to be nothing left. And what if we discard any God who intervenes and then He started to do exactly that? Would we be able to notice? I distrust anything that may make me more blind than I already am.

  17. Having had a religious upbringing somewhat to the right of Jerry Falwell, I have been devouring the books of Borg, Crossan, Spong, etc., to try and put it all together. I can’t. I guess my main question concerning God is: What is there about the above gentlemen’s definition of God that could not be covered under the fields of sociology, psychology, etc.? Is their experience of God something that will someday be found under these social sciences?–Wayne

  18. It may be that, rather than a misuse or redefining of Christian terms, the confusion results from viewing the Bible and Christianity from distinctly different paradigms. In his book “The Heart of Christianity” (among other places I suspect), Dr. Borg identifies some of the differences and similarities between the “earlier paradigm,” and the “emerging paradigm,” and the importance of ongoing dialogue to reach what he aptly calls “the heart of Christianity.”

    With regard to the interventionist concept, my impression is that he is responding to a more literal view of interventionism, rather than suggesting that God is not relational in our lives. To do so would be coming from a deist point of view, which is apparent to me is not the case. He does not assert that God is removed or impersonal. He states, “Whatever God is ultimately like, our relationship to God is personal” (p.72).

    To have satisfactory answers for the above questions and observations, I highly recommend reading his works to gain a clear understanding of his assertions. In my opinion, the articles on this website are a good start, along with the book I mentioned above.

  19. The language of a “relationship with God” is also misleading. As far as I know, one cannot have a relationship with anything but another being – either human or supernatural. If God is not a being “out there” then I don’t understand how it makes sense to say you can have a relationship with a mystical experience. Perhaps instead of using the word “relationship” you should use the word “practice.” I “focus on practicing my God-experience” or I “practice having mystical experiences” would be much clearer. This is very different from having a relationship with an actual being (human or otherwise). I think you could relate to non-believers much better if you communicated your meaning without words that invoke the “old man in the sky” image.

  20. There are several things I should say but I don’t think I will succeed. But here is a try.
    Kim, I don’t think it gets you anywhere to say “viewing the Bible and Christianity from distinctly different paradigms”. To switch paradigms is to switch beliefs. To change paradigms is, in the common parlance, to convert. I do believe Dr. Borg and I come from different paradigms when we read the Bible, and that is the same as saying we come from different religions. It is not something as mild as the difference between Catholic and Protestant, or even between liberal and fundamentalist, where there is a large intersection of shared belief. Underlying this difference in paradigms is a shift in definitions so thorough and complete as to leave no intersection of shared belief at all. At least so it seems to me.
    I must say too that there is no other field of academic endeavor in which such a change of paradigms would be allowed to continue using the same vocabulary. A change in meaning demands, in all honesty, a change in the words we use. It is the only fair way to communicate with people who are accustomed to using those words if we are genuine about wanting to communicate.

  21. Perhaps I’ve been misunderstood. My initial intent was to comment on my own experience, and on my appreciation for Dr. Borg’s work in helping me clarify some things for myself. In response to the comments that followed that, my second post was intended to share what I, personally, have interpreted from Dr. Borg’s works (which may or may not be correct). My aim was not to speak for him, convince anyone else of those assertions, or argue semantics. I have found his work very helpful for my own spiritual path, but certainly there will be, and have been those who disagree. I respect the right and responsibility of each individual to seek truth for him/herself, in the way in which God leads them.

    Additionally, I don’t have strong feelings about whether or not it is fair to use similar language when talking about two different paradigms. That is not my area of interest or expertise. Maybe you will see a comment from him regarding that one day. It sounds like an interesting area of discussion.

  22. OK. I do understand where you are coming from, Kim, and I hope your own spiritual path will continue to lead you deeper into God, whatever He may use to help you.
    I am coming from quite a different place. My conviction is that spirituality and the discussion of spirituality, at some point, should go beyond the discussion of aesthetics. I just can’t talk about spiritual things like I talk about my taste in music or poetry or art. At least it seems like that may be the approach on this website – I don’t mean to be offensive here and I certainly do not intend to insult anyone so I am sorry if I am. I do think that at some point spirituality should become a deeper question; but everyone must pursue what seems best and truest. God’s peace be on you all.

  23. I have had very similar experiences in my life as Dr Borg is describing in this post. I came from atheist home, to quite conservative, biblicist Christianity where I have stayed – and increasingly struggled – for years.

    The point I wish to add to the discussion in the comments above is the following. The debate really isn’t between the high, or naive theism (God is a person like we are, an enlarged father figure), and atheistic naturalism, which, if consistent is physicalism. The debate is whether the particular kinds of deep experiences of life (mystical experience) calls for the “more” Dr Borg is talking about, or not. It is not clear how we should decide this issue. Existential experience which transcends subject-object structure or relations is not “merely subjective” – it comes out of the relation of the experiencing creation with all other, surrounding creation, and can also be shared with other creation. There are some of us that see in such experience a “religious-belief inviting nature”, where with religious I simply mean “reality is more than a reductivist physicalist description of it allows”. If this is so, the expression “God” is not that far off the mark at all – the discussion is only whether the “more” (and I am quite happy with Tillich’s “ultimate reality”) should be called with some other term and why.

  24. My jaw dropped open several times when I read this post.

    On 3/19/08, ten days sober and 29 years old, while sitting on the ledge of the southern rim of the Grand Canyon, it was as though God whispered into my ear “watch this,” and changed everything from black and white to color. I have never craved a drop of alcohol since that day.

    On 6/30/09, while on a 7 1/2 mile run, I felt suddenly a sensation like chills over my skin, wind through my hair, light and warmth, and I felt as though I could laugh and cry at the same time. I knew instantly (although not in any intellectual way) five things: Everything is going to be okay, no matter what. We (humanity) are all connected inextricably, in ways I’d never imagined. I have a purpose. This spiritual ecstasy is not for me to keep but for which to be a channel for other people. Now that I’ve made this connection with the divine, there is no more need for hate, anger, fear, judgment and anxiety. I could feel them flow out of me as though leaving through my fingertips.

    On 5/22/10, while on another run, I felt for just a moment, what it truly was to be a channel of God’s unconditional Love, forgiveness and peace. I loved humanity deeply, deeper than I ever had before. I then received the call to go to seminary and get a Masters of Divinity (if it weren’t for Thomas Merton, I wouldn’t have even considered myself a Christian, much less a seminary student). I am currently a seminarian, although it is the strangest thing I can imagine.

    Thank you for sharing your experience(s), I hope that you don’t mind me sharing mine.

    -Joe

    • Merton had very good instincts. He has been a blessing to many people, including me.
      How your experience will proceed is unpredictable, of course. If it follows for you the pattern it followed for me, you may not have any more such experiences, but “No person can receive anything unless it is given him from heaven” John the Baptist remarked. Pursue the Giver and not the gift and you won’t go wrong. May the Lord bless you and keep you, may the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you, may the Lord lift up the light of His countenance upon you and give you His peace.

  25. This journey of seeking has always been premised on the contention that there is “more” – a view increasingly embraced by cosmology.

    The universe is an expanding multi-dimensional “bubble.” As such, it has structure and is a sufficient­ly closed system that it mostly behaves as a closed system.

    This “bubble” exists in what?

    This “bubble” is expanding into what?

    There is an existence beyond this universe.

    This bubble is not solid, it is riddled with cracks, holes, and tunnels. Some of what is in those gaps is not of this universe. What is in the cracks, holes, and tunnels of the universe? Part of the research into Dark Energy and Dark Matter is investigat­ing whether what is outside the universe is leaking into the universe.

    The work by Hawking and others contends that the universe is a construct that involves eleven (11) dimensions­. Regardless of how many dimensions comprise this universe, we have to contend with several possibilit­ies for that other existence and to what extent is this universe a part of that other existence. There are at least 3 possibilit­ies.

    1) The universe’s dimensions and processes are unique. Meaning that whatever is outside the universe is completely different – different dimension­s and different processes and different laws and different energies and different matter. If the dimensions and processes of this universe are unique, then possibly they are incompatib­le with the other existence – an incompatib­ility that has to be resolved at some point and not necessaril­y in a way that favors this universe and in a way other than the Big Crunch or the Big Freeze and in a way that is more sudden and unpredicta­ble.

    2) The universe’s dimensions and processes are not unique. Whatever is outside the universe works exactly the same as what we find in the universe. If the dimensions and processes of this universe are a subset of or exactly the same as those of the other existence, then this universe might continue until a Big Crunch or a Big Freeze – or simply be re-integra­ted with the other existence either through slow absorption or through a process similar to that of a burst bubble.

    3) The universe’s dimensions and processes are a mixture of unique and common properties­. If the dimensions and processes of this universe are a mixture of uniqueness and subset elements, then the resolution of any incompatib­ilities could change both this universe and the other existence.

  26. I have had three experiences in my lifetime during which I experienced “God” in the manner described by Marcus Borg. All three of these experiences occurred during times of “despair” in my life—serious despair. I did not do anything to bring on these experiences nor was I hysterical with grief or fear. I was just finding myself in a position of awfulness—just like other human beings have experienced. At these times I was bathed in feelings of warmth, peace, well being, calmness with an accompanying knowledge that everything was going to be okay in the end. I can best describe the experiences as “the peace that passes all understanding.” I am a well educated (doctorate degree) and occupationally successful person who has tried to live according to the principles of Christianity. I experienced God. I truly did. I don’t know how I could be a person who was given these experiences.

  27. Thank you so very much for your clarity regarding mysticism. I have used your definition of mystic several times when attempting to communicate what is a part of my life. Your definition and description has been so valuable.
    Also, you will not remember, but I met you in Lexington,Ky – and your topic was Christian Mysticism. I’d had a tragic week, and will never forget your patient and wise words. Yes, we go on because we have no other choice. To know that I was able to communicate to someone (fully, although we spoke for less than 3 minutes) at that time, brought me great courage and strength – and hope. I have now entered a monastery, and am very happy. Bless you for your guiding spirit.

  28. I forgot to ask… have you considered a non-fiction work on mystics? Your description and non-hysterical approach is sorely needed by many. As you mentioned at the seminar in Lexington, there are many out there – and perhaps they just do not understand iwhat that means in terms of being quite normal. Also, it would be good to see an approach that is different than the usual conception of a mystic! Many think of Teresa of Avila levitating! And, as you are aware, there is so much more to it than that!

  29. Amanda MacNaughton

    This discussion is very interesting. Thank you, Dr. Borg, for beginning it. I, too, have had my faith in God confirmed by mystic experiences. I have had a clear memory all my life of one night when I was a small child and had gone to bed and neglected to get a hug good-night from either of my parents, which was our family tradition. As I lay in bed feeling sad about this, I felt myself embraced. I was certain that God had given me a hug. I also had an experience as a child of lying in bed at night and watching the ceiling overhead dissolve. I could see the stars outside. Then, in the corner of the room, I saw a woman holding a young child in her arms. She was pointing, showing him the stars. I knew immediately it was Mary and Jesus. This was not a dream; I was wide awake. After a minute the pair vanished and the ceiling rolled back into place.

    Regarding the discussion here about the nature of God, I only wish to add that while I certainly agree that God is not a man in the sky with a beard, I am not so quick to say that God is not a “person” or “personality” with a will and a mind. C.S. Lewis, one of the greatest Christian theologians who ever lived, pointed out (in “Mere Christianity,” I believe) that the danger in talking about a Force, Ground of Being, or any of the other impersonal terms used for God is that a general Life Force cannot hold you responsible morally. I respectfully submit this idea as an addition to the ongoing discussion. I am not talking, necessarily, about punishment when I mention God holding us responsible. Another person, a friend, a mentor, can hold you responsible for something. An impersonal force cannot.

  30. Marcus, I saw you speak last week at Calvary Episcopal Church in Memphis, TN. I had been reading your book “The Heart of Christianity.” I just want to say thank you. I have always been more into the eastern philosophies of life/spirituality (and continue to.) I just couldn’t come to grips with the traditional “earlier” way of seeing Christianity, and therefore would have nothing to do with them. I am fortunate enough, now, to be among a community that, for the most part, sees things similarly from a Christian point of view. Your works have influenced many, many people Thank you again.

    Yours in “the way.”

  31. Diane Stockman

    Hello Marc — this is a long-ago student of yours who owes her career as a lawyer to your advice to consider law school (even though a music major!). I have often wanted to thank you for that, so here it is: thank you! If you are ever coming to the Minneapolis area, please drop me a line, it would be very fine to visit again over lunch or dinner. BTW, congratulations on your remarkable career, I have read your books and, as ever, blown away by the knowledge, insight and clarity of thought. — Diane Stockman

  32. O Sacred Now

    O sacred now –
    Continual creation –
    What man cannot devise
    Or bend to his will –
    May we keep watch over
    And protect you as
    You protect and nurture us –
    May we ennoble and honor you
    As you keep us within your embrace –
    May we know your kind and generous will
    As we return it –
    Welcomed –
    Compassionate –
    Free from all bondage –
    From hatred, violence and fear –
    With debts to no man
    But owing only to you –
    And to all –
    The spirit of sanctuary, justice and peace
    Your presence inspires.

  33. Dr. Borg, I don’t claim to understand mysticism at all, let alone what you describe in your experiences. However, in another post you mentioned that you believe that when you die you ‘die to God,’ whatever that means, and you quoted Romans 14:7-8 on this. Do you believe this passage to be literally true? If so, why do you consider this passage literal and not so many other passages?

    And how is ‘dying to God’ an answer to the question of death if, as it seems to me, you do not accept a literal resurrection of Jesus, and so not your own bodily resurrection? It would seem to me that your acceptance of ‘dying to God’ is therefore little more than wishful thinking. Certainly there is no empirical evidence of an afterlife or of ‘dying to God.’

    Colin Liske

  34. God is not just sympathetic, God is empathetic. There is a spark, a microbe, a thread, a drop of the essence of God in each of us. While we might not recognize it or while we choose to ignore or deny or reject our godliness, God always recognizes and acknowledges and affirms and claims and connects with that Godliness that is intricately woven and bound with the essence of each free-willed individual being.

    God suffered with Jesus. The lesson is not that it was a miraculous coexistence of divine and human. The lesson is that God is connected and bound to each of us just as God was connected and bound to Jesus. Jesus is a universal example, not a singular occurrence. When we “repent” (when we “return to God”) we recognize and acknowledge and affirm and claim that we and God are so intricately connected that it becomes a connection of the upmost intimacy. God has always known us. In our knowing God, in making it a two-way connection, we open a communication link, establish a conversation, become involved in the most open intimate relationship in which we can be involved and with the most faithful and trustworthy partner. It is a marriage and a binding and a bonding of soul and creator – we know God and God knows us.

    Through the power of this dynamic connection and loving relationship, we cannot stay the same, we cannot remain who we were – the former self falls away and dies and in its place a new being is established. Through the power of the relationship between soul and creator, there is death, resurrection and transformation, and mutual benefit. We are given a new life and a participatory citizenship in the ever present Kingdom of God. God is reconnected with that of God which is a part of each of us and through us God is connected with creation as a part of creation and God experiences more of the on-going existence of creation.

  35. Thanks you Marcus for your words, both in your books and on this website. I have been struggling with my rejection of supernatural theism for many decades, primarily struggling with the fact I had nothing to replace it in my concept of existence and my purpose here. Your writings have helped me to define the source of my issues with that belief structure.

    I also struggle with the eternal and the infinite – concepts a human mind is not equipped to comprehend, and perhaps concepts that are attached to this universe and do not have the same meaning in the larger existence beyond it. I had a mystical experience early in my life – in my late teens – while struggling with these concepts of the eternal and the infinite. Afterward, I was never quite sure if this was a true vision of something beyond my usual perception of existence or my brain’s “safety mechanism” shutting down thoughts that threatened my sanity. Your description (and those of others on this site) of similar experiences lead me to re-examine that experience and perhaps find hope within it.

    Science has progressed in our understanding of the causal universe, but has not helped in providing guidance as to what exists “beyond causality” – and something is necessary beyond causality for there to be anything at all. Your words give me hope there is an answer to pursue.

  36. Thank you, Dr. Borg, for your books and for this site. Thanks also to all those who have posted their experiences and thoughts here.

    My religious journey started on April 17, 1988. I was 43 years old, a “life-long” agnostic leaning hard on atheism who was contemptuous of all religious people, yet was seeking a “higher power” as part of a 12-step program to which I belonged. That evening I was lying in bed just having read a here’s-a-way-to-find-faith pamphlet, which I decided was just more Christian religious claptrap. In my disgust I said, aloud, with great derision, “All right, God, if you DO exist, why IS there so much suffering in the world?”

    And a Voice replied, in the felt center of my head, “So that you can learn to help relieve the suffering.”

    Silence. All mental activity stopped. While the Voice was within me, I knew it was not mine. I lay there for perhaps 10 minutes just “being” with what had happened. Then I decided I was having nothing to do with it, and went to sleep.

    I had, of course prayed without realizing it and had been answered.

    The next day, at work, a series of experiences started that so terrified me that at least once I almost soiled myself in fear. Each one started with a quiet “thought” concerning God’s nature “popping” into my head. The first was, “God is present.” Then God was there . . . hugely there, with me, within me, around me, paying close, interested attention to me . . . and I was “given” to understand that God is with everybody, always. This went on for two days, and then for 3 years.

    I’ve reached the space limit.

    Thanks.

  37. God is other than “finite” or “infinite.” God is neither zero dimensions nor infinite in infinite dimensions. Within the existence occupied by God, dimensions and vectors and direction and movement and location and duration are meaningless. God is, at the very least, a sentient creative imperative – of which, this universe is but one example, one expression.

    Our witness is that God is aware of and appreciates life; is especially fond of life that is self-aware, learns and shares knowledge through generations, and is aware of God; and God desires contact and relationship with such life. Our witness is that God loves us and expresses that love as grace. Grace is neither a gift nor a response. Grace is neither an obligation nor a quid pro quo. Grace is an expression of who God is. The love and grace of God is pervasive and love and grace perpetually envelops us and permeates us communally and personally. Love and grace and relationships and the divine desire for relationships and the connectedness between personalities are more than the universe, more than universal, more than the fabric of creation. They are the backdrop against which and the environment and the crucible within which creation occurs. They are what make creation, and therefore life, possible. They are what motivate and initiate and cause and continue creation and life. They are the substance and essence of creation and life.

    We love and relate and connect because that is, not just who we are, it is what we are. It is out of love and relationship and connectedness from which we are created. When we love and have healthy relationships and connect with others with and through grace; it is then that we are true to ourselves, true to God, and true to and truly express the very nature and principle of all that is.

  38. Just want to reccomend two books:
    The Medium, the Mystic, and the Physicist – Lawrence Le Shan
    The Science of Mind – Ernest Holmes

  39. Mr. Borg, I want to thank you for helping me along my faith journey. I just finished reading “Meeting Jesus for the First Time”. Growing up, I too felt very close to God and to the teachings of my church only to question and reject those same teachings as a young adult. I also had a mystical experience when I was meditating (as homework for a Jesus, Socrates and Budha class). I was overcome with a feeling of intense love and timelessness that was different from anything I had ever experiences before. And more real – if that makes any sense. It was this experience that I kept remembering when I felt that by all reason, I was an atheist. I do not believe in a God who is a person in the sky, but I do believe in that one-ness that I felt. I find your description of Jesus as having been a spirit person to be illuminating. Thanks for your writings, I will continue to devour them.

  40. I’m wondering if anyone here, or particularly Marcus Borg, might see some strong similarities between what has come to be Pentecostalism and mysticism. To me it seems like both have ecstatic experiences, altered states of consciousness, etc. If one accepts mysticism and some of the “weird” things in it should one be compelled to accept Pentecostalism’s experiences and some of the “weird” things in them?

  41. Two mystical experiences in my life, and both are difficult to put into words. The first happened 25 years ago……..living in Botswana; starry, starry night; at peace and content; and the greatest feeling of one-ness where I was one with all that is, a very comforting feeling, no separation, and knowledge that all is one. Nothing precipitated this event other than a sense of feeling great about life.
    The second mystical experience was the “vision” of Jesus and another person in the bedroom where I was starting to go to sleep. Jesus then washed the feet of the other person. The only thing that precipitated this event was a heated discussion about gay rights with a family member.
    That’s it, wish there were more but am very grateful for both of these events. The first one gave me so much comfort to know that there is no separation, that we are all part of this oneness, whether we are living or dead we are part of this oneness. The second experience is harder to explain but just as real. It gives me comfort that the spirit of Jesus lives on.

  42. This is incredibly beautiful, you just described my own experiences and thoughts in a way I could never do.

    The “problem” with knowing this truth is that when going into discussions about god, the one person talks about the personified god while you are arguing for the infinite god. A god which can in all actuality only be experienced. This becomes what I call a parallel discussion where both people think they are talking about the same thing but both are actually arguing against the image of god they have in their minds. And so it is impossible to ever resolve it, its like two discussions are going on yet both parties involved think they are discussing the same thing.

    Even thought I have experienced this it pains me to say that time can make a person forget that experience. I was 16 when I realized the “Isness”, I could have sit there in my bed seemingly for all eternity and be completely comfortable. I could have undressed myself and walked the streets without an inch of shame. I could have kissed the earth and not see it as dirty but as pure.
    I could read the newspaper and see that the madness of this world is but a product of our division with the true reality.

    But when you try to communicate this experience to people they apply their “rational” thought process to what you are saying and ask questions like “well we can’t all be blissed out gurus right, who would run the world then huh?” or “I think a state of absolute peace and bliss is kind of boring”.

    Who ever looks through the eyes of god is a changed man for ever, and the change is so radical that it becomes hard to relate to other people. It becomes a source of suffering when you realize that the state you are in now, is so far away from what is possible in this world. You try your best to think your way back to that place, to do and read all sorts of practices, and yet it seems impossible.

    Its like getting a taste of the finest food the world has to offer and then having to eat stale bread for the rest of your life knowing what is possible yet not being able to achieve it.

    This experience is beyond all, no man can command it to come, no man can will it into existence. All fear of death dissapears and all past atrocities aswell as present “imperfections” are realized to be perfect now and eternally.

    In our world people are constantly looking outwardly to solve things. We solve our spiritual emptiness with material goods, we try to solve our societal problems with the very mindset that has conceived them in the first place. Any change in this world has to come from a change in conciousness, and when conciousness is in touch with reality as it is and in harmony with all, only then can man act in congruence with existence.

    We are all running and we have no clue where we are going. It is as though modern man is being pushed by he’s fear and anxiety. He feels these emotions and he tries he’s best to create a world in his image, he tries to free himself from the very same bond a mystic tries to free himself off. But the method with which he thinks to achieve this cannot be any farther from the path.

    I have seen the world through gods eyes, and yet time has made me as delusional as most people on earth.