February 26, 2012
There is no one on the face of the earth who looks like you. Nor, is there anyone who has your book of personal experience. Nor is there anyone who mentally processes information and values exactly as you do. Each of us is, in as sense, unique (i.e. “one of a kind).
When I read the Bible or creeds or theological documents, I sense that many of their writers struggled with this issue. They sense this, and they try to convey their insights, experiences and values to people who do not have precisely the same set of “tools” as they do. In fact everyone who would communicate with others confronts this problem. Communication is not always easy. It is said that all learning is “analogical”; that is, we learn some new thing by comparing it to and contrasting it with something previously experienced. But, sometimes there is no analogue!
St. Paul seems to me to have been a driven man. His personal faith experience was so powerful and so all consuming that he spent his life totally driven by it. He wanted EVERYONE to hear and respond to the claims of the Divine, as he had experienced it, a unique “Christ” event. To the Corinthians he wrote words that are usually translated with some variation of “I have become all things to all men, so that by all possible means I might save some.” Were he writing in our time, no doubt, he would have included women. His concern was for EVERYONE. Many other great Christians have been “driven”: Martin Luther King, John Knox, John Brown, Billy Graham and more. John Newton, who wrote the great hymn, Amazing Grace, had also had a radical conversion experience which changed his life. It was so thrilling to him that he wanted to share it in such a compelling way, that others would be brought “on board.” His poem was surely inspired.
In his great book, Varieties of Religious Experience, William James argued that Christians come in “varieties”. Some, such as St. Paul or John Newton, have an instant of cataclysmic and totally life-changing experience. He called them “twice born”. Others are reared from small children never knowing anything but Christian living he called “once born”.
Today, many persons who seek Divine guidance and experience appear to me to be neither “once born” nor “twice born”. They are “seekers”. Born into a secular, and technology dominated world, they are both hungry for meaning, for transcendence, and are suspicious of any spiritual “hocus pocus”.
My prayer for each of us is that we be sensitive, sincere, discriminating, open, reflective and wise; and that in our innermost parts there is a compelling response to the “ultimate”: to God, and that fruitfulness and joy that fill us.