“When you don’t know where you’re going it can be hard to get there. I can’t say my path has been arduous in the sense of physical hardships or deep emotional trauma but it has been a long and winding road. Some of the twists in the road have been inspirational and some challenging.
My parents were nominally Anglican but I don’t remember being in church with them at any time. I attended Sunday School a few times but never really got into it. When I was around nine years old I somehow became part the Christ Church Cathedral choir. We got to dress up in black robes with big white collars. At that age most of the religious content of the services went right over my head. So much so that a friend and I were once scolded for playing X’s and O’s during the sermon. What did impress me about those Sundays in the church was the grand scale of the building itself and the glorious sounds of the huge pipe organ echoing off its walls.
In the summer between elementary school and junior high school something very strange happened to me. It must have been a Sunday because Oral Roberts, an evangelist preacher, was on TV. At one point Roberts asked everyone to stand, including people watching on TV. I thought it might be interesting to play along so I stood up. Roberts stretched out his arm toward the people present in the building with him and toward the TV camera. He asked everyone to stretch our their arms toward his outstretched hand. He then called out something like, “Save them Jesus!” a number of times. To my astonishment I was “saved”! I felt like I had been washed clean and that everything was right with the world. The experience lasted about 3 days before gradually fading away.
I had seen Roberts and other TV evangelists do this kind of thing before but I always assumed they were staged events designed to inspire people to send money. But there was no denying I had experienced something unusual. Had I really been saved by Jesus? At the time I wanted to believe in this explanation but right from the beginning I had my doubts. When the experience eventual wore off I thought it might be because my faith was not strong enough.
Eventually, I learned that what I had experienced was known as a mystical experience and that William James had identified four defining qualities of these experience.
– Ineffability. According to James the mystical experience “defies expression, that no adequate report of its content can be given in words”.
– Noetic quality. …
– Transiency. …
I would add a fifth quality: Oneness. There was, for me at least, a deep sense of connection with everything. This was not an intellectual understanding. It was a felt part of the experience. Because the experience was so overwhelmingly positive in affect I have, over the years, sought a way back to that state of being. Meditation, and psychedelics sometimes produced interesting effects but they were not as convincingly “real” as my mysterious experience. Over the years I have come to believe that if a mystical experience can be trusted at all to reveal a truth it is the interconnectedness of everything. This fact of reality has been a guiding principle for me over the decades but for much of that time I felt quite alone in my conviction. Most people I knew, even the atheists, held some variety of the traditional western worldview in which things and people exist as separate, independent phenomena.
About eight years ago, to my great good fortune, I stumbled on the Religious Naturalist Association’s website. As I went through the material there it soon dawned on me that here was an organization with a worldview that recognized and celebrated the interconnected wholeness of nature. Not only that but there was an emphasis on the awe and wonder that such an orientation can evoke. All these years later I continue to delight in being involved with this group of thoughtful and welcoming people.
For me, an important benefit of being a religious naturalist and a member of the Religious Naturalist Association has been the opportunity to dialogue over the years with a number of other religious naturalists. Along with my own study and reflection these conversations have been instrumental in helping me shape and articulate a way of looking at the world. I have published this perspective as a digital booklet called The Hopeful Mindset. It is my hope that by offering this booklet without charge I can contribute something to the religious naturalist community and possibly help to broaden awareness of the religious naturalist orientation.
My path has led me home to nature and to a group of people with whom I enjoy sharing experiences and thoughts of being in this world of wonders.