Mystical Encounters for Christians
When I sensed that believing in Jesus wasn't enough and yearned for more, I turned to older forms of prayer.
BY: Tony Campolo
It's one of the most popular questions of our day: Is America having a spiritual revival? I think the answer is a resounding YES!
But while men and women clearly have an intense hunger for experiences that will nurture their souls, many of these questing spiritual nomads have not found what they are looking for in churches. They have tried the church and have heard theological discourses and social justice sermons, but have failed to discover much that offers them mystical encounters with transcendent spiritual powers. They long for experiences that could create the ecstasies of heart and mind that German phenomenologist Rudolph Otto called themysterium tremendum.
I relate to their problem. I have experienced an unspoken dissatisfaction with own my spiritual life that has only been allayed over the past few years as my prayer life began to change. Believing the gospel was never a problem for me, but during times of reflection I sensed that believing in Jesus and living out His teachings just wasn't enough. There was a yearning for something more, and I found that I was increasingly spiritually gratified as I adopted older ways of praying--ways that have largely been ignored by those of us in the Protestant tradition. Counter-Reformation saints like Ignatius of Loyola have become important sources of help as I have begun to learn from them modes of contemplative prayer. I practice what is known as "centering prayer," in which a sacred word is repeated as a way to be in God's presence.
In my Baptist childhood, all I learned to do while praying was to go through a litany of non-negotiable demands to the Almighty. Prayers were little more than petitions. Oh, I knew about confession, adoration and other kinds of prayer, but my prayer life wasn't far removed from that of my six-year-old son, who came into the living room one night and said, "I'm going to bed! I'm going to be praying! Anybody want anything?"
Each night, I still make my requests "known to God," just as the Bible tells us to do (Phil. 4:6), but in the morning I don't ask God for anything. Instead, I center down on Jesus.
To do so, I have to drive back the animals--the "animals" being the hundred and one things that trouble me from the day before and the many things that are waiting to be done in the new day. I've got to push everything out of mind save the name of Jesus. I say His name over and over again, for as long as fifteen minutes, until I find my soul suspended in what the ancient Celtic Christians called a "thin place"--a state where the boundary between heaven and earth, divine and human, dissolves. You could say that I use the name of Jesus as my koan. Perhaps that's because, as my friends and the country gospel musicians the Gaithers, sing, "There's just something about that name."
I wish I could say this spirit of Christ saturated my being. The truth is, most mornings nothing happens...
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