Martin LeFevre, TheCostaRicaNews.com
The wind blew hard and rain threatened when I reached the stream on the outskirts of town. Dark, lowering clouds swirled around one, banking against the hills and gathering into huge masses over the fields, heightening one’s senses. Do I stay, and risk rain, or worse, lightening? The risk of lightening seemed minimal, and if it started to rain, I’d just ride the bike home.
It began to drizzle, but sitting under the spreading, budding branches of the sycamore, I saw more drops on the placid current in front of me than felt on my back from the wind coming out of the north. A few miles away to the southwest over the canyon and foothills, rain was falling harder. There weren’t many clear spaces left to the east and north.
Suddenly hail began to fall, small pellets that made little splashes in the stream. A seagull tacked against the wind, and a large flock of small birds scattered in the distance. Feeling protected somehow amidst all the fury and tumult, I didn’t move.
The hail, which never reached sufficient intensity or size to sting, stopped as quickly as it started. The sky to the west began to open; within a quarter hour the sun was shining again, with small, fleecy clouds above the horizon evoking a pleasant spring afternoon. To the east however, the clouds had piled into each other and taken on an ominous hue, a blue-black sheen that could not have provided a greater contrast.
It was the strangest and most beautiful sky I’d ever seen. After witnessing three dramatic changes in weather within an hour, I stood transfixed looking back on the sycamore I had just sat under. Its white bark gleamed in the bright, setting sun, with the intensely blue-black sky as a backdrop to the east.
I walked back and forth along the stream for some time, taking in the incredible variation of light, color, and shape of the clouds. One was agape, wide open and in a state of wonder. True religious feeling is a combination of awe, humility, and love in the presence of overwhelming beauty.
Religious experiencing occurs with the complete silence of thought within one. It is a death, and little more can be said about the experience.
Inward growth requires a non-accumulative kind of learning. And this is where the contradiction at the heart of organized religion comes in.
The experiencing of the sacred is beyond all words, beliefs, ideas, images, knowledge, scriptures, texts, and traditions. Even one’s own prior experience of the sacred is an impediment to experiencing it in the present.
Religions would not exist without the intermediation of text and tradition, as well as some form of priestly class. Therefore religions impede, if not deny, the very experiencing of sacredness that they extol!
Awareness and contact with the sacred (that which is completely beyond thought and knowledge) can only occur within the individual. A teacher can point the way, but the moment his or her teachings become more important than one’s own solitary enquiry and experiencing, one’s capacity for direct perception of the sacred is diminished, if not destroyed.
That doesn’t mean religious feeling is a personal thing however. Rather, it’s an inherently private and individual matter. The personal dimension is oriented to self, revolves around ego, and is driven by will. Whereas the individual’s experiencing of God (or whatever one wants to call the essence of beauty, mystery, intelligence, and love that permeates the universe) is interior and private, but not personal.
If this almost inexpressible mystical experiencing in the individual is what spirituality really is, then what place do religious and cultural traditions have in religious experience?
I have never met an adherent to an organized religion that puts seeing for oneself ahead of scripture, that puts actual experiencing before belief, and insight above the accretions of theology.
Be that as it may, if one opts to remain in a religious tradition, hold it lightly, mining for insight while being mindful that texts and traditions are never sacred, but at best an echo of the sacred.