Some describe a mystical experience as an awakening, a Holy Instant, being enlightened. The root meaning of mysticism is union or communion with God. Within The Course in Miracles, atonement means an "at onement with God" ... this is for what we strive.

Some people who have not had mystical experiences may nevertheless live in union or communion with God. Gandhi might be the best example since he never reported a mystical experience.

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There are examples of mysticism in secular poetry and in Christianity, Islam, Daoism, Hinduism, and Tibetan Buddhism. Many describe the experience as one that suddenly happens, without any warning. Their thinking, therefore their life, changes forever. They see the world and themselves very differently.

Christian mystics speak of the spark of the soul or the ground of the spirit. John Ruysbroeck, a Catholic mystic during the 13th and 14th centuries, explained: "... The spark of the soul ... is the inward and natural tendency of the soul towards its source. And here we receive the Holy Spirit, the Charity of God. By this inward tendency we are like the Holy Spirit; but in the act of receiving, we become one spirit and one love with God."

The Apostle Paul wrote: "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me." (Galatians 2:20 NIV)

From the research of William James and F.C. Happold and the personal experience of Douglas W. Shrader, it seems that seven characteristics appear: 1. The inability to describe the experience in ordinary language; 2. The thought that the experience reveals hidden or inaccessible knowledge; 3. The mystical experience lasts for a brief period of time; 4. The sense that a mystical experience happens to someone and is beyond human control; 5. A sense of oneness and completeness; 6. A sense of timelessness; 7. A feeling that one has encountered truth.

Mystics tell us that if we wish to find God, we must look within. The popular Sufi poet Mevlana Jala-e Din Rumi (1207-1273) wrote: Your self is a copy made in the image of God. Seek in yourself all that you desire to know.

In the Gospel according to Luke, the Pharisees questioned Jesus as to when the kingdom of God was coming, Jesus answered: "The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say 'Look, here it is!' or, 'There it is!' For behold, the kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17: 20-21 NIV)

Marcus J. Borg, Canon theologian at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, Oregon, and author of 19 books, says mysticism is about "the experiential knowledge of God" that has been categorized in a number of ways.

Some are "eyes open" experiences in which one sees what one would ordinarily see, but it looks different: transfigured, suffused with light, filled with radiant luminosity (which is what the word "glory" most often means in the Bible). Moses saw a bush that burned without being consumed.

Some are "eyes closed" experiences. These include visions (of angels, Jesus, Mary, saints — and in other traditions, Krishna and the Buddha and more). They also include experiences of union/communion in meditative and contemplative states of consciousness.

Borg confides, for me, because of several such experiences, and because of my study of mystical experiences in multiple religions, they are the reason that I continue to be Christian. And that I continue to think that the religions of the world, at their best, are sacraments of the sacred and vehicles of good.

William James wrote more than a century ago that to test if a mystical experience is good he quoted a saying of Jesus from Matthew: "By their fruits, you shall know them."

If the result, the consequence of mystical experience, is compassion and growth in compassion, then it is of God.

Borg also feels that the power and the authority of the Bible is not grounded in an alleged divine origin, as if God inspired the Bible as God has never inspired anything else.

How bizarre that would be — that the creator of the whole universe, the sacred that is present everywhere, chose to be revealed only in the Bible, and only in the religion that venerates the Bible — which just fortunately happens to be our own tradition.

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That notion is the product of Christian provinciality — easy to believe if one has never encountered anything else, but impossible to believe for those who have. For the central figures of the Bible — from Abraham through Moses, the prophets, Jesus, Paul and more — are all portrayed as people for whom God, was an experiential reality.

One modern-day person I read about recently saw everything as distorted, ugly and meaningless for 14 years. She decided to commit suicide when suddenly her whole world disappeared. Her self disappeared. She felt she had melted into God, the supreme good, the most beautiful, peaceful, joyful state she ever imagined. She realized she had been looking for her answers in the wrong place. She says that the truth is not in the material, it is here — present.

She understood it was she who put blocks between heaven and herself. She realized that God was the only thing she can never get rid of ... even when she is not aware of God's presence, God is still with her. God did not hide Himself from her. She realized she had been holding concepts that didn't allow her to experience God's presence. One of the most important things to remember is: Everything is a matter of choice.

Hopefully, we will not need a mystical experience to know that God is in everything we see. When God is in your vision, all that you see becomes beautiful. We will be able to observe without evaluating.

The Rev. Ellin M. Dize is executive director of nonprofit NRS Inc. and facilitates A Course in Miracles spiritual discussion group at St. Paul's UCC. She can be contacted at NRSsolutions@yahoo.com.

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