He is a self-described Christian turned atheist turned Jesus follower, trying to reconcile spirituality and science. I’ve heard him reference his mystical experiences before, but he recently talked more about it in an episode of The Liturgists titled “The God Question.” The part I’ve transcribed below is from timestamp 26:09 to 30:45, if you want to hear it from him directly.
My theology is ambiguous at best, but I have to admit that spiritual experiences are important to me, I’d even say that they’re fundamental to how I experience the world.
And a few years ago, I stopped believing in any version of God at all. I became an atheist. And that was a really tough transition for me at first, because I’d always understood God to be a personal God, a being, cosmic in power, who knew, understood, and loved me personally. And I have to admit I delighted in knowing God in a personal way.
But, a God, a personal cosmic God raises all sorts of troubling questions about how the universe behaves, and why there is so much suffering within it. So for many reasons I let go of my belief in the God I believed in.
Unfortunately, I had a mystical experience, where I felt like I was in God’s presence. I saw God, quite literally, as a light floating in the air before me, that came close, and allowed me to feel the Divine breath, the very presence of God in my surroundings, in my heart, in my experience. And it was beautiful! And it confused the hell out of me.
It made me realize how much I’d missed feeling a connection with the Divine as an atheist. Here’s the problem. Trying to connect with God again was very difficult for me, because most ideas I saw about God in the world’s great faith traditions were so wildly improbable, and so poorly supported by evidence, that I couldn’t attempt spiritual practice or communion with the Divine, without feeling so self-conscious that I had to stop. I could not talk to a God that I found to be ridiculous.-Mike McHargue, The Liturgists Podcast, “The God Question”
So I searched for an understanding of God that my mind could get on board with, something that didn’t seem implausible in a modern cosmological understanding of reality. This is what I came up with. God is at least the natural forces that created and sustain the universe as experienced via a psycho-social model in human brains that naturally emerges from our innate biases.
Now that’s a pretty limited, and I’d even say, a materialistic view, of the Divine, the natural forces that Einstein would speak of, which allow the universe to be. But that alone is not what humanity talks about when it speaks of God, because there is a reverence, there’s notions of Divine encounters and intervention, and so those fundamental forces behind reality aren’t God until they are experienced by a conscious being, a being who through multiple means of cognitive structures, comes to see meaning and purpose in the natural world around it, beings like me.
So while my theology may be very limited, and even materialistic, it allows me to establish a baseline of reasonable expectation, that I’m not a fool or wasting my time when I contemplate God, or when I seek communion with the Divine. My physical idea of God opens my heart to the Divine presence, and allows me to experience a mystical union with what we call God. And that is good enough for me today. Because spiritual experiences are important to me. And I do love to feel that Divine breath.
Mike’s experience seems to bear resemblance to Joseph Smith’s First Vision, and mystical experiences more generally, in several ways:
- He was in a troubled state of mind, wondering about the nature of God, who God was, etc.
- He searched for understanding.
- He had many questions about God.
- He didn’t feel that the traditional religions around him provided convincing answers.
- He saw God, and was in God’s presence.
- God was in a light, floating in the air before him.
- The light came close to him.
- He felt enveloped in that presence of God, in his heart and surroundings.
- He felt the Divine breath, perhaps similar to speech, a direct communion of some kind.
- God’s glory was beautiful, and lovely.
- He began to interpret God anew according to his direct conscious experience of the Divine.
If you would like to submit a “First Vision” account, either personal or found, for inclusion on this website, please click here. I’ve decided to begin numbering the accounts I have published on this site, and I think this is #41.
The painting at the top of the post is called “The Divine Light,” by Wander Eddie.