Losing Jesus, Finding the Holy Spirit

May 29, 2017 § 6 Comments

Jesus, the Christ, and I—Part 4

I entered college hungry to find meaningful religious experience. I didn’t give up on my Lutheran roots right away. I became very close to the Lutheran campus pastor at Rutgers College and spent many long hours struggling over my faith with Pastor Strickler. But my questions only got more demanding and more refined.

Then in my sophomore year, I got turned on to pot and early in my junior year, LSD. There I found some of the experience I had been looking for.

It’s common to hear people proclaim that drug-induced experiences are not real religious experiences. That may be true, insofar as “religious” experiences take place within the context of a religious tradition or their “content” relates to a deity. But these psychedelic experiences were “spiritual” for sure; they were transcendental, inwardly transforming, and for me, beneficial, a positive influence, especially on my inner life. They awakened me to the presence and workings of the Holy Spirit.

Psychedelic drugs showed me that my search for religious experience was not in vain, that the transcendental was real, that my own consciousness was vastly more subtle, beautiful, capable, and connected than I had thought, and that everything was infused with the Holy Spirit, especially other beings. The very structures of consciousness itself were revealed to me, in some modest degree, by those acid trips.

Still, these experiences were limited. And drugs are hard on you. I never got into the really dangerous non-psychedelics, the opiates, speed, cocaine, downers. But it takes a couple of days to fully recover from an acid trip, and being stoned all the time on pot isn’t good for you, either.

But the doors of perception had been opened for me. I now knew that there was a there there. I kept searching.

My perspective on religious experience deepened again when I became a serious student of yoga, which I dedicated myself to as a spiritual path for a number of years, beginning almost at the same time as I discovered psychedelics. I began with Transcendental Meditation in 1968 and soon became a student of Kriya Yoga in the school started in America by Paramahansa Yogananda.

I had the best yoga teachers imaginable, humble, truly expert practitioners who were gifted teachers and deeply spiritual themselves. Moreover, this was a path that was healthy, sustainable, scientific, and intellectually very satisfying. More important, it delivered.

As a science of consciousness, yoga is thousands of years old, extremely sophisticated, and fully tested; it works in ways that no Christian path does that I know of.

Some claim that Jesus traveled to the east, that he was an avatar, an incarnation of Krishna, or at least, that he was a mystic in the eastern mold. I see no evidence of this. He seems very semitic to me. He wouldn’t have had to travel anywhere to learn a mystical practice, anyway; the Greco-Roman world was full of its own mystical traditions. More importantly, so was Judaism.

There are hints, I think, that Jesus may have practiced some form of “meditation”. At least he recommended praying in private in a “closet”, in contrast to the prevailing Jewish practice of his time, in which people prayed publicly and out loud. He had visions, led his disciples into visionary experience, and in Gethsemane, seems to have expected some form of prayer to effect some form of divine manifestation. And Paul was some kind of mystic.

But subsequent Pauline Christianity basically never integrated a meaningful science, metaphysics, and practice of deepening consciousness in its worship or in its lay devotional practice, let alone one that can compare with yoga. And it has historically been hostile to its own mystical movements, often violently so.

The strength of Christian practice is devotion, love for God, what yogis call bhakti yoga—music and singing, focusing rituals involving the senses, religious art, rosary beads and lighting candles, and appeals to surrender the will in faith and righteousness. These devotional tools can be very satisfying for people with a bhakti temperament. But bhakti yoga is not my path.

So I let Jesus go. He seemed irrelevant, with no real path to experience him directly and reliably that appealed to me. High church ritual seemed empty to me and the altar call, the “low church” appeal to surrender the will to Jesus as my savior, seemed an answer to a question I wasn’t asking. Meanwhile, I had found what I was looking for: a door inward to my spiritual center, practices that got me there consistently and reliably, a thought system that explained and supported the practice in a coherent and “scientific” way, all presented in a tradition that was ancient and venerable.

It would be decades before Jesus and I reconnected.

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