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|Personnal experience of the Christ
|The Christians devotees to Jesus Christ are witnesses
to God in the world. They are in the world but not of the world;
however, without a personal “experience” this is impossible, the more
today in this time and age of secularisation. When Jesus Christ
witnesses to what He knows, what He lives and what He is, He refers to
His own experience. When Jesus Christ asks for faith it is because He
knows what He is talking about.
Saint Martin or Papus help us on our way.
from the Gospel of John, He says to Nicodemus: “Truly, truly, I say to
you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen;
but you do not receive our testimony.” (John 03.11)
He is adding: “No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the
Son of man.” (John 03.13)
remarks express the specific nature of the Christian experience of God.
It is that Christians take into their own lives, the very experience of
God. Before the coming of the Word made flesh there already existed in
the world a diffuse experience of God, hesitant perhaps and never quite
sure of itself, but very real all the same.
Jesus Christ comes to us with a new experience.
“No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known.” (John 01.18)
John the Evangelist describes, at the beginning of his Gospel, as the
state of humanity before the coming of Christ, still applies today to
those who have not yet truly met Him.
For John, the incarnation of the living Word, Jesus Christ, is the beginning of a new era of experience of God.
What is there so particular, then, about the Christian devotee meeting with God?
Christian devotees and contemplatives in Asia, this question is
certainly primordial. They cannot just simply tell their Hindu or
Buddhist brothers and sisters, that in all spiritual disciplines the
experience of God is identical.
They should be sufficiently aware of
their own experience to be able to discuss it without losing sight of
the fact that it is not exactly the same as that of others, and yet
there are great similarities in both the Bhagavad Gîtâ and the Gospels.
becomes easier to admit that each philosophy’s experience of God has
its own specific traits if in fact that is just what it is, an
1. The Experience of God in Theology.
At a time
when people are looking for the closest contact with other religions as
did a brother of the strict observance, in order to understand their
experience, they run two risks. The first is that of making out that
all true religious experiences are identical; the second, that there is
no point of comparison between them.
It is always dangerous to try and judge other people’s spiritual experience; for that, one needs, a deep own experience.
have to keep in mind a fact: the close connection between religious
belief and the formulation of experience. Indeed, we might say there
are relatively few religious experiences, even deep ones that are not
conditioned as soon as expressed, and even in the living of them, by a
Thus, it is quite possible to imagine two devotees
or contemplatives enjoying the same objective experience of God, and
immediately translating it, even as it reaches consciousness, in such
different ways that it would be hard to believe they are talking of the
This is understandable, since, while the experience
itself takes place in the area of the inexpressible, on the conscious
level it is all the time being shaped by each one’s accumulated store
of beliefs, attitudes and words.
What the Buddhist would call the
rapture of his self when it becomes aware of its unity with the
Absolute, the Christian would describe as a union of love with God.
when dealing with the problem of a specific Christian experience of
God, we have to reckon carefully with the fundamental importance of
When I am suddenly faced with an entirely new
experience as living with the Gîtâ or the Gospel, through either one,
when God breaks abruptly into my heart in a totally fresh way, my mind
pushes me to try and find out if this apparently extraordinary
experience fits in with the faith of my religion. The only rule
is the ruthless abandonment of everything which is in the way. “When
any man God perfectly desires to love, all things as well as inward as
outward that to God’s love are contrary and from His love to let, he
studies to do away.” (Richard Rolle, “The Fire of Love”)
concrete vision of the glorified Jesus Christ has the true mystic
quality of ineffability, appearing to the self under a form of
inexpressible beauty, illuminated with that unearthly light which is so
persistently reported as a feature of transcendental experience. When
St. Teresa saw only the Hands of God, she was thrown into an ecstasy of
adoration by their shining loveliness. (Vida, cap. Xxviii § 2)
I were to spend many years in devising how to picture to myself
anything so beautiful, “ she says of the imaginary vision of Christ, “I
should never be able, nor even know how, to do it; for it is beyond the
scope of any possible imagination here below: the whiteness and
brilliancy alone are inconceivable. (St. Teresa, op. cit., cap. §§ 7,
8.) In fact, she learnt how to understand and express what had
happened; and once certain of being on the right road she was able to
throw herself without hesitation into her experience.
of this way of seeing or acting is that everyone normally receives and
interprets his own experience of God according to the spiritual
theology of his own religion. In fact, it is fairly seldom that such an
experience is felt so strongly and with objective clarity that a man is
able to go against the doctrine he was brought up on. However, one does
come across instances like that of the Moslem, Al Hallaj, who was
executed for professing doctrines based on his spiritual experiences
that were more Christian than Islamic.
This and many other instances
will prove that, though the experience is usually interpreted according
to the belief held, it is quite possible also for it to lead to the
discovery of truths that are in contradiction with commonly held