“I was caught up to the third heaven – whether in the body or out of the body I do not know – God knows”.
Paul is trying to describe his conversion experience on the road to Damascus
And according to Paul, this conversion experience which he also writes about in 1 Corinthians is an equivalent experience to what the disciples experienced in the resurrection “appearances”.
If in the broadest sense these experiences are what are known as “theophanies” basically meaning an experience of the divine, which in the Bible is communicated as an “appearance”. So was this then the same thing that Jesus experienced at his baptism?
I would say yes because the result was the same. They all experienced an intense feeling of “connection”, a better word for our purposes is “communion” with the divine.
It was expressed in different ways. Jesus expressed it as an intimate familial connection, so that he referred to God as Father, and then encouraged us to do the same and address God as “Our” Father.
The disciples expressed their sense of connection with the divine in Christological terms, and talked of being in Christ, through the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. Whatever words you use, they are, I would say describing that same sense of connectedness with the universe that is the common property of all creation, but a connectedness that human beings have largely lost.
Another common theme is that feeling connected with the divine leads in all cases to feeling a close connection with other people because God is common to all people and all things. So Love of God and love of neighbour are two sides of the same coin and one melds into another.
Holy Communion service is an expression of our connectedness with all things, all people, and the divine. It is the antidote to the alienation and fear that stalks and blights so many of our lives. And because Christianity is at heart a sensual incarnational religion being touched by God is mirrored in human touch as I believe Neil was saying last week. Being held by God has flesh put on its bones when you are held by a person.
In this same ball park, It has also helped me enormously to think of Sin in a completely different way than it is commonly understood. The central premise of Christianity is that it offers atonement – which is union or a reconciliation or communion with God. Reconciliation is the antidote to separation not evil. Sin, for me, is the state of separation from God and existential loneliness I talked about a few moments ago.
Sure enough, bad things, “evil” things you might say naturally flow from this state because evil things have their root in fear and self interest but the primary problem is separation or at least a perceived sense of separation from the divine.
Jesus discovered that this perceived state is actually an illusion and that the kingdom of God is within us.
Jesus wanted to bring together what was separated, even if that separation is only a misconception and invites us to go beyond our minds to see that too.
Knowing that we are actually intimately connected to the source of all things and all things that emanate from the source is the result of these wonderful ecstatic revelations that people like Jesus, Paul and others are experiencing and which then subsequently transform their entire lives.
A flat two dimensional understanding of your own life, alone and disconnected from everything else looking forward to oblivion when we die is transformed into a fullness of life, eternally connected with everything and everyone else.
It is a challenge to think that it could all be just so simple. That the secret to life in all its fullness is about a change in perception, When you attune yourself to the truth of the universe, it liberates your very being. You might want to call that salvation, you may want to call it enlightenment, or atonement. The point is, that it is within our grasp, our gift, to transform ourselves by going beneath our minds to perceive that truth and by adopting practices that reinforce that truth.
Not everyone is ready to receive that truth of course. Jesus recognised that some are so blind that they will never see, and he referred to them as being spiritually dead. “Let the dead bury their own dead” he once sarcastically said and he warned that talking to some people was like casting pearls before swine so don’t waste your time, just accept what you cannot change. And here too in this story we have instructions just to shake the dust from your feet from people who are not ready to hear.
Don’t be so anxious. The truth remains true no matter how many people accept it or deny it. And what is true has to become true for you – true to your own experience, or remains just another fancy or clever idea alongside many other fancy ideas.
Once you take something like this seriously, and start to practice spiritual practices that work for you, that truth starts having the power of truth for you. And there is the challenge – to not just change our minds but through adopting spiritual practices to allow our change of mind to permeate and transform our entire lives – our body, mind and spirit.