Part 2: Ecstatic Spiritual Experience
This is the second excerpt of a spiritual account in a letter from a friend who gave permission but prefers that her name not be used. I find her story very stirring and real and a terrific demonstration of how the spiritual experience can be astonishingly entwined with the physical. She notes that she uses the masculine pronoun for God out of long habit. Part One was posted yesterday.
Less than a year later, my first charismatic experience (in a chapel) came as a result of “letting go” more spiritually. In contrast to the first experience, I asked for this one (asked the Holy Spirit to fill me more completely) and, as a far as I as able, released control of my life to God. I surrendered relationships, fears, goals, etc., because I felt I’d already been touched by an incredibly loving being who was worth trusting.
I was up all night, because I found that instead of contemplative prayer, there was spontaneous praise just pouring out of me, and I wasn’t consciously trying to pray. It was exhilarating, freeing, and I wasn’t aware of any physical needs (hunger or sleepiness) for about twenty-four hours. When this episode finally stopped, I felt as though I’d been given a new spiritual skill-set, so to speak. It wasn’t just the joy of the initial experience but was an open door to being able to receive more.
By this time, I’d visited other Protestant churches and was feeling a little uncomfortable. In my personal experience of the Spirit of God, there was never a hint of condemnation there––only a gentle kind of leading through peace or the absence of peace. If something I was doing was harmful to me or others, I’d get a little “check” in my spirit, a lack of peace; but this was so different from the concept of a distant, angry God. It was a much sweeter relationship than that.
I think it’s tempting for churches to slide into a formula or a dry, intellectual program, far removed from an unpredictable Holy Spirit. I loved the way you contrasted the university church and the black church in Revelation.
For a while, I attended a non-denominational charismatic church that ended up devaluing education (first, a rejection of seminary and later, a rejection of the fine arts, including good literature), in favor of spontaneous experience and a demonstration of the gifts of the Spirit. At first, the charismatic movement respected the idea of a broad education, while emphasizing more spiritual liberty through the Holy Spirit. (Good groups still do.) In this church, an idea that was common in Pentecostalism––separating from the world in an extreme way-–became unnecessarily restrictive and, in my opinion, harmful. The fine arts are an incredible gift.
This was just before my introduction to a flood of “ecstatic” experiences, which affected me physically and which, after hearing your interview, I wanted to relate here. I heard about a little church near the airport in Toronto, in 1994. Curious about why people would fly there from all over the world, I went with two friends, and one was a Presbyterian pastor, close to burn-out….
(Part Three will be posted here tomorrow. I would welcome an account of your own spiritual experience for possibly sharing here, either with your name or anonymously. Send to me at [email protected] or simply leave as a Comment here.)