|Sunday was Pentecost, that ancient day when the Holy Spirit spilled from the heavens and danced as tongues of fire upon the disciples. It is a bizarre holiday, one that confounds modern sensibilities.
We are more comfortable reading about divine encounters than experiencing them. To deduce doctrine rather than allowing spiritual subjectivity loose in our churches.
Christianity largely substitutes mere belief for divine encounter. We have millions and millions of Christians who have had no experience of God (that they are aware of). And the church, for the most part, prefers it that way. We can then supply beliefs and dogmas as a replacement for encountering a living God.
This is part of the reason so many people cling to the Bible or their theological beliefs so firmly. Because, to them, it is the closest thing to God they have ever encountered.
But it is a sad thing for someone to cling to a corpse when a Living Being longs to embrace them.
Why, then, is it that so many churches encourage their people to embrace doctrines and dogmas instead of helping them experience God’s presence? Because doctrines and dogmas are predictable. And through them, people can be managed.
Mystical experiences are, almost by definition, uncontrollable. And those who have them are deeply unmanageable.
This is why so many mystics got in trouble. The notion that a subjective individual or autonomous community could encounter the presence of God without proper mediation or sanction threatens the entire power structure.
Yes, there is a terror in allowing ourselves to step into pure subjectivity. To allow ourselves to experience God without proper confines. Who knows what will happen?
Instead, it is better to trust those ancient ones—Paul and Peter and John, Moses and Elijah and Amos—who had such freedom. Instead of encountering a feral and devastating God ourselves, we content ourselves with living vicariously through the prophets and apostles. We parse their teachings in a book that we substitute for the living God.
We worship the dead letters of our paper-God without allowing its truth to become a key that might open a door to divine encounter.
But even that book, which has no life of its own, still points to dark freedom. And so, when we come to the most alarming bits, we minimize them. We whisper to ourselves “it is enough to believe that this happened; there is no need to experience it for ourselves.” We tell ourselves that Jesus’ most subversive words should remain on the page lest we attempt to do likewise.
And so we conclude that it is better to cling to an objective dead thing. A predictable thing. A safe thing. Than to welcome the chaos of the Spirit to breathe upon us.