I have always had a problem with the language of Spiritual Experience, and a great deal of my spiritual enquiry has been focussed on this dilemma of mine. I have written pages and pages in various journals and diaries (none of which I have ever been good at keeping) on my bafflement at the way people talk about spirituality. My biggest problem is that judging by the speech of others, I have rarely, if ever, had a legitimate Spiritual Experience. Of course, I don’t mean to say that I myself have never had what I would term a spiritual experience, merely that I have not, as yet, found in language a fully realized way of describing it.
The problem, as I see it, is manifold. First off, within Pagan and New Ages communities, Spiritual Experience is frequently referred to as a Communion with the Divine, however, I find myself questioning what the actual content of such a description is. For that phrase to properly carry meaning, we must first be capable, at the very least, of defining the Divine in concrete terms, if not, then, explicitly defining communion in an equally concrete way. Here, of course, the question schisms into a hundred, if not more, discrete questions which every discrete theology answers in frequently radically different ways. If one, however, attempts to step back and define the Divine so that it includes multiple theologies (I would here argue that it is impossible to define the Divine in a way that includes all theologies) one is left with a definition of the Divine that is so vague as to be useless. There is, of course, the retort that such an effort is futile, since the Divine is the Great Unknowable Source/Creator/Totality/Fullness/Whatever, and the truth of Communion with the Divine lies within this Mighty Unfathomable. However, such an response nullfies itself, as communion implies an intimacy which can only exist between beings comprehensible to each other. Once the Divine is removed from the realm of experience, the idea of communion with it becomes nonsensical. The Divine must be describable and present within the realm of experience. If it can be experienced, we must also be capable of describing said experience, and speaking of such a communion in proper, concrete terms.
I don’t mean to say that such a description would be easy, describing the experience of color is devilishly hard to do without relying on the names themselves. It is sufficient in casual speech to refer to a sunset as red, but it in describing the redness of the sunset one must resort to metaphor and analogy: poetry rushes in to attend to the subtle queerness of discrete experience. It seems to be, then, that the Divine, being, by necessity, as pervasive as color, should require a description as equally, if not substantially more, queer. I have to wonder, then, if such a queer description can claim the concreteness required to bring into sensibility the phrase, “Communion with the Divine,” and, if it cannot, are all attempts to uncover a proper spiritual discourse damned from the outset to failure?
Secondly, I feel that Pagans must be capable of dropping the dogma of the faiths which surround them. Paganism makes claims to a great historicity (which is a whole other discussion, though for my present purpose, I have no desire to dispute such claims), and as such, has a great breadth and depth of language to draw from. Why, then, do Pagans today continue to speak of the divine in the terms defined largely by early twentieth century Christian Evangelicals? The Personal Relationship with Jesus, it seems to me, has more often than not merely been mapped onto Artemis, Venus, Freya and a hundred other ancient gods the orignal settings of which would have frequently found such an idea not only antithetical, but blasphemous. Is Knowledge of Thor exactly analogous to Knowledge of Christ? It seems to me that we as not only Pagans, but Spiritual Explorers must confront such questions. And again, my previous critique of Divine Communion can be brought to bear here: how are these, now manifold, Divinities defined so that the experience of them is as discrete as the experience of color?
I realize that this reflection raises more questions than answers, and I really make no claims to direct Spiritual Knowledge. All I am trying to do is explore my own understandings and misunderstandings. Indeed, particularly within this question, I often feel like the misunderstanding is entirely on my end. I know that people have Spiritual Experiences and possess deep and abiding faiths which demonstrate themselves in their experience of the world. My dilemma arises when people begin speaking of such experiences and are then incapable of elucidating the foundations of their experience. I feel, then, that perhaps I am the one incapable of understanding a rather simple idea. However, I suspect that this idea, which many take as being quite simple and basic, is, in fact, incredibly complex and subtle. I suspect that Divine Communion is not a thing which we have the luxury of accepting on face value and that we must turn back upon it and dwell within it.
I argue that the Divine must, in order for it to even be accesible to us and experienced must be, in all its forms, Immanent and Present. In order for us to speak of Divinity as a thing which can know, it must be manifestly in our world, as much as color and light are manifestly present. The Divine cannot simultaneously be Unknowable and Experienced: it must be present within the realm of experience for it to be apprehensible at all. The Divine cannot be described as above or beyond. The Divine can only be entirely, indisputably, here.
This, then, is the task of those of us seekers, to uncover a means of speaking of the Divine within the realm of experience which adequately concretizes it. We can no longer afford to speak of the Divine in the language of our religio-philosophic forebears. Or, if we are, we must task ourselves within analyzing such language to uncover the moments wherein it is capable of describing the experience of the Divine in terms which reflect the unique experience of it, as much as a poet describes the experience of red within the sunset. We need to be Poet Philosophers & Artists of the Spiritual in order to apprehend, I suspect, the experience of the Divine.