The relevance of Revelation in Christian Tradition
Saturday 13th October 2018
The relevance of Revelation in Christian Tradition.
Paul Newman took us briefly through a speedy tour of revelations that have transformed people's lives. He contrasted this with the way we so often read and analyse texts and books with a view to progressing our learning journey of life. This is sensible because it is very difficult to explain personal spiritual experiences. He described this other approach as discussion based on research.
However, revelations or spiritual experiences have sparked so much of the foundations of Christianity. In the Bible these appear from Genesis through to the Book of Revelation. St. Paul had the outstanding experience on the Damascus Road and other disciples had the experience on the Emmaus Road. Later the Emperor Constantine was inspired to bring about the Council of Nicea, creating a common liturgy and the collection of books called the Bible.
Less known is the collection of writings called the Nag Hammadi Library discovered in Egypt, full of people's revelations. The events did not stop there, they continued through the Middle Ages with the book called 'The Cloud of Unkowing' and later the personal spiritual experiences of Julian of Norwich.
Spiritual experiences continue and you could say these occur at the 'will of God', confirming that it is possible for people to 'know' God for themselves. In fact, this process was found from the beginning of Hinduism where seeking direct experience is part of the recommended way of life. Thus it is rarely appreciated that Yoga was not primarily a physical exercise but an attempt at union with God.
Paul described his own near-death experience at the age of 4, entering a coma and then being isolated for 4 months during which he studiously looked at the Bible for himself; amazingly he learned something of its messages but also through it learned to read.
Observation is at the heart of revelation since it shows you something you have not previously encountered or may even have discounted. How these spiritual experiences come about cannot be explained; on that we must suspend judgment.
Two other examples were presented. One is Dr. Eben Alexander from the Episcopal Church. He worked as a neuroscientist, but was taken ill, went into a coma and stayed in a vegetated state until the moment when his life-support machine was switched off. At that point he revived and from what he was told had happened to him, his knowledge of the brain could in no way explain his revival.
The other is Penny Sartori who has written a book about her experiences caring for dying people. She listened to them revealing what they had to say about their experiences as they neared death. Once again, we have to remember that trying to understand and describe these experiences does not come close to how it feels to have them.
During discussion people commented how so many can have 'spiritual experiences' that cannot be explained. One said that Spiritualism is not the answer to the meaning of life, but one can have spiritual experiences that change your life and link you with God. This is more important than the 'mumbo jumbo' that the church has added to the life and teachings of Jesus. The test of these experiences is whether they lead to love of the kind that Jesus shows us.
On a radio programme that same day there were people who described themselves either as atheists or non-religious, yet spoke of supernatural experiences, using words like 'angels' to describe a 'presence' that had made an impact on them.
I end with a poem by R S Thomas; it conveys those brief moments of inspiration or spiritual experience and the way we can so often miss their significance in our hurrying lives. He uses an experience in the countryside of course, to make the point.
THE BRIGHT FIELD
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
the treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
Nigel Jones (9 October 2018)