In the summer of 1976, I was a member of a monastic community in New Mexico, and something spiritual happened one evening. I hesitate sharing this “holy happening” because the experience is indescribable and even the word “experience” is misleading. Usually, when I report an experience, I describe something perceivable. I share something seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or touched. Mental sensing is similar to a physical sense, like when dreaming I “see” certain places or people while my eyes are closed. If I remember the dream, I can tell what I “perceived.” So one challenge in describing what I experienced is that I did not perceive anything with physical or mental senses. How to describe that?
Besides this difficulty, my attempt to describe the phenomenon falls short and the danger that people might get the wrong idea made me wary of talking about it. Even though it seemed somehow important to share the experience, I preferred to keep silent about it rather than mislead people, or somehow defile something sacred.
Also, as I will explain, the experience produced three main dilemmas within me that continued unresolved for many years. Until I resolved these dilemmas, sharing seemed premature. In fact, I needed to digest and integrate the experience before trying to share something I did not understand. Another danger is “spiritual pride.” Monks tended not to talk about their spiritual experiences. More humble that way, or not. (If I am proud of my humility, am I humble?). I will try to describe what happened forty years ago without much context. By context I mean my own spiritual journey. I will share the larger context later. At the time it happened, I felt fine, not sad at all. Depression came later.
On that evening, after final communal prayers in the chapel, I went back into the chapel to pray and be alone. A handful of people sat scattered throughout the small, dimly-lit chapel in private, silent prayer. In an uncharacteristic move, I invited everyone present to join in a circle, sitting on the floor, to pray together.
Those present joined and took turns in spontaneous prayer, as is common in charismatic circles. A young woman on my immediate left spoke to Jesus, saying something like she wished she had a direct phone line to Him so she could talk to Him and hear Him talking back to her. When she finished her prayer, I spoke up and asked her to imagine she is sitting on soft grass, scented with wild flowers, in a beautiful landscape, watching a river flow by. The weather is perfect and the atmosphere peaceful. I asked her to imagine Jesus sitting relaxed right next to her and she could be with him for as long as she wanted. Jesus was in no hurry to go anywhere. Then a spinning sensation started.
My eyes were closed and I felt a spinning within. I started to feel dizzy. The feeling was unpleasant; I felt I might get sick if the spinning continued, much like nausea from motion sickness. Then the spinning stopped and I felt no discomfort. I was no longer conscious of the chapel, or the people I invited to prayer, or even of my own body, but I was aware. This awareness is not of the senses or mind, but prior to those ways of perception. I became aware of an invisible, most holy presence, a holiness I had not experienced before. I perceived nothing, no light, no sound; not even a mental image; nothing but a basic awareness of this holy presence. The presence seemed somehow personal, and I was aware of three, invisible, silent beings. One in the middle seemed primary, or of a higher order. Two other beings accompanied, one on each side of the central one. The presence did not identify itself and I speculated for years as to its identity. Neither did I speak and my attention was riveted to this invisible, holy presence. There wasn’t any fear. As far as I remember, there wasn’t any thinking going on; just awareness and awe.
I was aware also of invisible “rays” (for lack of a better word) coming from this presence and passing through me like an x-ray might. I did not know what these rays were but I sensed “healing” and “purification,” not so much in words or thoughts, but as an intuitive, non-verbal impression. The rays passing through me seemed like an immersion or a baptism. Could this be the baptism in the Holy Spirit I sought?
Then I noticed something different, also like an invisible ray. I can best describe it as the greatest love I ever experienced. It seemed like the most powerful, most stable thing in the universe. To call it a thing is not right, words fail here. It was not a thing as in an object. It was more like an activity or a power, and attitude. I had not experienced this kind of love before, not from any person, even though I did feel the rare person loved me. The difference in nature and magnitude between this higher love and human love seemed immense and categorical.
This experience of love included an awareness of the attitude of this indescribable, numinous presence towards me. I describe this attitude as unconditional acceptance. This acceptance is not like, “I accept you warts and all,” but somehow It saw me as perfect and even delightful. Without using words, it communicated “I take delight in you.”
I do not know how long this experience lasted; there was no sense of time. But when I was back sitting in the circle, little, if any, time had passed.
As the small group ended its prayer and people started to stand up, an excited buzz burned through the group. Everyone received a spiritual experience, but everyone’s was different. People started talking and sharing, but I wanted to be alone and just sit with what had happened. I felt that if I talked about it, I might somehow contaminate it, or dilute it. Still in a bit of a pleasant daze, I didn’t know how to speak about it or attempt to describe what exactly happened. It seemed too sacred to speak of. A blissful, almost drug-like high gradually dispersed over a couple hours. Joy remained within me for many months though not as intense as the night of the experience. My secret was this: God’s love is way better than advertised. It is unconditional and contingent on nothing. I couldn’t lose it if I tried. Yet I could, and did, lose the experience of it. All experience is temporary and changes into a memory, and then memory of memories. And thus began a long, long, dark night where the love-light seemed lost.
When I tried to share this experience, I would say something like, “I felt a great love,” and the words seemed stupid, inaccurate, corny, romantic, probably because the word love is used in so many ways. I could not describe it. Language is not capable of it.
The morning following my mystical experience, the Abbot called me to his office. He heard that something spiritual had happened in the chapel the night before. I told him as best I could what I experienced. He asked me to pray for him and I did. Then he gave me a prophetic message. He said I was in for a long journey. I did not know what he meant. Now, after forty years lost and wandering in the dry desert of this world, I have some idea what the Abbot meant. I was out of Egypt, thank God, yet the desert and its gold cows loomed.
As I tried to understand what had happened, three dilemmas arose. First, this unconditional love/acceptance seemed to run counter to all my religious conditioning. Love, or acceptance, is conditional, according to the authorities. I knew of no priest or preacher who taught that God’s love is unconditional, and I was familiar with Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant theologies. Raised on fear of eternal damnation in hell, I learned there are conditions to determine placement after death. Can you imagine a university with no conditions for admission? There is no easy resolution to this dilemma; many years passed before I began to find an answer. Later in this book, I go into more detail about my own spiritual conditioning. Conditioning forms core beliefs, and pours the false-foundation of identity. These beliefs are often unconscious, stubborn, and persistent, like a concrete cornerstone hidden stories below the visible structure. Fear reinforces these hardened beliefs despite experiential evidence that contradicts what I believe.
The second dilemma is closely related to the first. If this Love is unconditional, it means I do not earn it. No one earns it. Unconditional, by definition, means it is inclusive of everyone. For anyone to be excluded there must be conditions for exclusion, such as sin and guilt. I experienced an all inclusive love, yet my conditioning trained me to believe God’s love is exclusive and conditional. How could it include everyone without exception? Why go to church if it had nothing to do with salvation? I was confused. The pieces of the puzzle were not fitting together.
The third dilemma is that this presence saw me as perfect. How could this be? I knew for certain I was not perfect. I was a sinner, plain as could be. Should I argue with this numinous presence and disagree with it? No, I could not argue with Holiness. Yet I recognized two opposing and irreconcilable views. Who am I to challenge 2,000 years of Christian theology based on a single experience I did not understand, and could not even begin to describe? I trusted this unconditional love absolutely. Nothing is stronger or more stable. Despite these unresolved dilemmas, I was confident, almost recklessly so, of God’s love and sure that His love is not contingent on anything I did or didn’t do. And because this love is unconditional, it is extended to everyone without exception.
I had had the most significant experience of my life, dwarfing anything else I knew. I was left with a knowing that nothing in this world compares to that love and holy presence, and a confidence I could trust this higher love. Before this happened, I had lived for five years in a Catholic seminary and almost two years in contemplative monasteries. I read certain saints’ writings on mystical, contemplative experience but I did not find a description that matched my experience, even though most spoke of a great love. After that experience, nothing else really interested me; nothing in the world came close. I wondered about the spinning sensation and dizziness. Is it related to the whirling dance of Sufi dervishes?
Most scholars agree that the whirling dance was taught to Rumi by Shams. It is said that this dance is symbolic of the circular motion of the soul…
Is it related to the “revolving” St. Simeon the New Theologian described?
I was twenty-one years old when I experienced Holy Love. Fast forward thirty-seven years to the Fall of 2013. I woke up in the emergency room of a hospital in Reno with no memory of what happened, although I had a hunch. Nothing was wrong physically but I was a mental wreck. I was involuntarily hospitalized for suicide ideation. I didn’t remember arguing with the paramedics; I had a full drunken blackout. I told the ER staff, “I’m not suicidal.” Someone replied, “That’s not what you said in your emails.” My memory of the emails was vague. Yes, perhaps I did send emails saying goodbye, but I wasn’t sure. I did not try to kill myself, but I was severely depressed, the third major depressive episode of my life. Wearied with life, I had wished and prayed to be done with the whole mess. I still believed in the love I experienced at age twenty-one, but so much time passed, and so much went wrong. So what the hell happened between age twenty-one and fifty-seven? Hell happened.
I do not want to write a book about myself. My separate-self-story is part of the past, unimportant, and soon to be gratefully forgotten. I share aspects of my spiritual journey on the chance it might help others. The past is gone, thank God. Memory of experience is a poor substitute for the reality.
Specifically, this book is about how the spiritual teaching, A Course In Miracles (ACIM) helped me understand the spiritual experience heretofore described, address the dilemmas mentioned, and heal from depression. I hope this book helps others connect the dots in ACIM. When one is in the deepest pit of depression, it seems that there is no solution and death is a reasonable and merciful option. I include in this writing some of my story to demonstrate how my life experience confirmed ACIM. ACIM is a map of the spiritual journey that found me when I was lost and dying in the hell-desert. Maybe it will help you too.
Transcript of phone message receive 7/25/2017:
“I recently received a copy of your book to look at. I’m also a Course In Miracles author and a teacher of that material, and I wanted to let you know… I get books sent to me and so forth, and I don’t usually call people. I want to tell you how amazing the book is. I’ve been on live presentations over the internet internationally just a few weeks ago, maybe four weeks, and I spoke of the book and how great it is. I loved your selection of Course quotes, and so many other things about the book. Congratulations on the book, really, and if I had to recommend only 5 Course in Miracles related books, this would be one of them. It’s better than almost any author out there writing on the Course. They usually just water it down, and kind of blah blah about course related topics, whereas this one is nailing some of the most important concepts of the course. I just want to say bless you and congratulations on the book and congratulations on your spiritual commitment and path and recovery.”
Michael Mirdad, author of The Heart of A Course In Miracles and The Book of Love and Forgiveness