Posted in Inspiration, Spiritual Formation, Spiritual Practices

Belief vs. Direct Experience – Why I do what I do.

Do we believe what we believe because we are told to believe it, or do we believe because we have had a direct experience that shows us that it is true?  As we grow spiritually, we become more insistent on the latter rather than the former and this is a sign of healthy spiritual growth.

George Harrison

Yesterday I had the great opportunity to watch Part I of the Martin Scorsese  documentary on George Harrison.  While insight into his life as a Beatle was interesting, I was most struck by his spiritual journey.  George was raised Catholic and in adulthood discovered Eastern (specifically Indian) meditation, became a student of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and pursued a path of spiritual practice and discipline that radically altered his interior life.  I can’t give you the exact quote, but he says something in the documentary about belief and how we can’t believe something until we have had a direct experience of it…and I could not agree more.  It was this direct correlation between experience and true belief that drove George to want to share meditation and other spiritual practices in the world so that we could all know the peace he had found in direct experience.  I deeply resonated with his passionate commitment to this task as it is for this very reason that I do the work that I do.

Believe it Because I Told You

Having been raised Catholic, there were many things I was taught to believe because the priest, the women religious and my parents told me to believe it.  I was told to believe this because these were the things that Catholics believed.  Fortunately, my heart told me other things in regards to many of these teachings and I later found out that some of these things weren’t even Catholic teachings (or had been reformed through the Vatican II Council).  But the attitude remained – “believe it because we tell you to and do what we tell you because we tell you to.”  Nowhere in this “telling” were there any opportunities to come to understand, know or come to believe these teachings on my own.  Blind obedience was the expectation.  And since God had planted some sort of rebellious, questioning, spirit within me, I could not just simply believe because I was told and lived my life knowing that at best, I was a Catholic in questionable standing.

Spontaneous Direct Experience

One of the things that fueled my resistance to blind belief was that as far back as I can remember, I had what I now understand to be “direct experiences” of God.  Mostly these experiences came while I was praying at mass or saying my bedtime prayers.  I can’t really explain these experiences except to say that when they happened, it felt like some sort of energy within me was being uplifted, raised up and elevated and it felt like it was joining with God on some unseen plane.  If I were to give the energy a name, I would call it wonder, reverence and awe.  In that place, I felt peaceful, calm, safe and alone with God.  It was in this space that I came to KNOW (not just because someone told me) that God was loving, kind, tender, compassionate, joyful, silly and passionate.  I KNEW that God loved without condition and that in the end, WE ALL return to this Source that I called God.  I KNEW there to be no judgment in this God, neither was there separation….only ONENESS.

Creating the Space for Direct Experience

All of these Direct Experiences of the Divine that I was having were coming about spontaneously and were not due to any specific spiritual practice other than simply showing up.  Then, in my adulthood, I had the great opportunity to learn the rich tradition of Western/Christian spiritual practice.  This tradition includes, Lectio-Divina, Imagination/Contemplation, Mantra Prayer, Chant, Centering Prayer, Meditation and Contemplation.  Learning these practices gave me the tools through which I could not only increase, but expand my experiences of the Divine.  I immediately took to these practices and embraced them with my whole heart.  By engaging in these practices, scripture suddenly became relevant, the mass took on a whole new meaning and purpose, eucharist became an opportunity to receive Christ, I came to know Jesus more deeply, intimately and ecstatically, I came to find and embrace the Catholic teachings that were rooted in compassion and justice and could now believe them in my heart, not just in my mind because I was told to do so.  Everything came alive after embarking on this path of spiritual discipline.  Additionally, I found greater peace, I found direction in my life, guidance, support….and most importantly….I FOUND LOVE.  I came to know the love of God in my heart, saw it living in the world and came to know myself as a reflection of God’s love….and all of humanity with me.

Why I Do What I Do

So, this is why I do what I do.  I have found tools through which I came to KNOW God, to KNOW myself and to find purpose and direction in my life.  I found tools that help me find peace, joy and love and the motivation to live a life of generosity and compassion.  I found tools that make me want to work for peace and harmony, justice and freedom in our world.  And….I think that these are the things that in our heart of hearts we are all looking for.  So……I share these tools.  I share what I have come to know about God.  I share peace, compassion and love.  And I hope that in the sharing, others will experience the peace and joy that I have found and are then motivated to share that with others.  And maybe just then we will ALL know the truth of heaven here on earth.

How have you come to know God in your heart?

What tools have helped you to find peace, compassion and joy?

How are you being invited to make a commitment to your own spiritual practice?

Lauri Lumby

Authentic Freedom Ministries