"The Heavens Ablaze"
-Dawn At the Desert Retreat House-
In my reading yesterday I came across someone's astounding story about their experience of a powerful mystical moment:
I stepped out alone and walked into the streets of Lone Pine, California, and I saw the world - the mountains, the sky, the low scattered buildings - suddenly flame into life.
There were no visions, no prophetic voices or visits by totemic animals, just this blazing everywhere. Something poured into me and I poured out into it..It was a furious encounter with a living substance that was coming at me through all things at once, too vast and violent to hold onto, too heartbreakingly beautiful to let go of.
It seemed to me that, whether you start as a twig or a gorgeous tapestry, you will be recruited into the flame and made indistinguishable from the rest of the blaze. I felt ecstatic and somehow completed, but also shattered.
One might expect that I found this powerful narrative in some sort of spirituality journal. It sounds like a story told by a mystic sufi poet or a fiery Old Testament prophet. But the thing that makes this story so astounding to me is that I found it in yesterday's New York Times, and it is a tale told by an avowed atheist.
Barbara Ehrenreich is a feminist, social activist and author. She comes from a long line of what she calls "hard core atheists" in her family, and she identifies herself as a rationalist and an atheist.
She contends that her incredible mystical experience had nothing to do with "God or gods." Rather she believes that her mystical moment was an experience of "transcendence" and that in some way we are all "wired" to experience the transcendence.
What a perfect example of how that word "God" has come to be such an impediment in our conversations about "God."
Whenever I am asked if I believe in God, I always hesitate because I know that the person who is questioning me is asking if I believe in some separate being apart from "me" who exists "out there" or "up there." And I don't believe in "God" in this way.
I believe that "God" is the ONE, the living, abiding Holy Presence, the blazing energy flowing in and through everything that exists. As I see it, the "atheist: who experiences "transcendence" in such a powerful way as described in that New York Times article has experienced "God" as powerfully as anyone I have ever known - including myself.
The ancient Celts talk about the "thin places" where the Holy Abiding Presence is so close that it is but a hair's breath away from consciousness. The Sufi mystics say that we are separated from the abiding presence of "God" by just a thin veil. Sometimes that veil is removed, and if only for a brief moment, we see "God" face to face.
I think yesterday's New York Times article was a story about the veil being removed.
I have never had the same kind of overwhelmingly mystical moment as described yesterday by the "atheist," Barbara Ehrenreich, but I do have mystical experiences all the time (many people do).
I watch the dawn break and the sky is ablaze - a living energy comes pouring into me and I am poured out into it. It is fierce and terrifying, unable to be captured, but so heartbreakingly beautiful that I don't want to let go of it. It recruits me into the flame and makes "me" indistinguishable from the rest of the blaze. I am completed and I am shattered.
The veil lifts and I see the face of "God."