Evaluating Numinous Experience

Our quality of dialogue in prayer with God, and the quality of our response, can be firmly linked to the dialogue in life outside prayer. This can also serve as an especially important criterion for discernment ~ and for assessing numinous experience. Difficulties and resistance in dialogue with God, or dullness of prayer, can be a suppression of important attitudes, and I believe too of our true longings, deeper even subconscious belief, and concerns.

If our vital dialogue in prayer with God is honest, authentic, expressive and engaging, and if there is a sense of deeply shared presence, then the times when our prayer is not so, when we are feeling more distant from the Lord, these times can be used as a comparison to the times when our conversations with the Lord are rich.

This is especially vital when discerning God’s will for us. And these times of poverty of prayer can be used to further explore our resistance to engage more fully/deeply. ‘By paying attention to the quality of the dialogue the person can learn to become more deeply transparent with God’ about what God is trying to communicate to them.

Peace although often used as a criteria for discerning Gods will in prayer, should also be considered carefully ~ as although an important criteria to arrive at ~ a place of peace ~ it should often be the result of some earlier level of turbulence in prayer (prayer that encourages or disturbs) that allows us to explore whether certain impulses come from God or whether they are ultimately harmful impulses.

In The Practice of Spiritual Direction William A. Barry & William J. Connolly (based on Ignatius spiritual experiences) state that ‘one of the criteria that people use to decided whether a spiritual experience is of God: They compare it to another experience that they are sure is of God.’

This ‘touchstone experience’ where Gods presence is made manifest without doubt, then becomes a measure by which to compare it to another experience, where there maybe some conflict revealed. Then, by becoming aware that in some respect the two conflict, they have a measure by which ‘to decide which experiences to accept.’ In this ‘discussion’ the discerner has the opportunity to reflect upon the experience more profoundly, and avoid confusing two different situations. Discernment at base is recognizing and admitting differences.

St Ignatius noted that some experiences of his dreams left him feeling initially happy and enthusiastic, and only latterly left him discontent ~ whilst other dreams that left him feeling happy and enthusiastic, latterly persisted in these positive feelings. Thus over time he learnt to begin to discern what was of God and what wasn’t.   Therefore immediate consoling feelings are not enough of a measure by which to discern one experience above another ~ but rather it is the longer-term consolations which are a valuable mitre. This suggests to me that although not always possible, most often discernment over a period of time is rather more beneficial and of absolute importance, when discerning whether the impulses are from God or not.

People’s numinous experiences are usually unique, and so special and precious to themselves, that it affirms God to the person in the most secure sense. The experience might not always be fully understood by the person experiencing it ~ but are usually always powerfully experienced. Just like the Transfiguration of Christ, when the disciples see Jesus in a glorious Light, but aren’t absolutely sure of how they ‘recognised’ what exactly had taken place.   We become momentarily deeply touched by God in a new way ~ in revelation of His Love. Even if we cant fully comprehend it ~ we appear to fully experience what we experience in a most radiant and a most undeniable way, that ultimately changes our lives from within.

Therefore another criteria for a Spiritual Director assessing true numinous experience is to witness the alignment of the persons inner experience and movement of spirit, with outward signs and evidence of growing in virtue ~ and that their inward experience has inspired visible or noticeable changes in the deepening of their outward discipleship, to serve the Lord.

This can often be seen as people grow in virtue ~ in the fruits of the Spirit ~ love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness, and self-control, but even these qualities can sometimes be mistaken for being present when other reactions not of the Spirit are really at work.  This is when we can rely on the Pauline signs, which appear to offer a more ‘absolute perfected, and useable’ criteria. It suggests that ‘the fruits of the Spirit appears as a unified growth’ even if the growth is unequal, and not as conflicting elements which could be the case if the reactions are disguised as, but are not, the fruits of the Spirit.

Soon after explicit spiritual growth a directee might express surprise, anxiety or even fear when God reveals Himself in new ways, as the directee in wonder senses God anew as ‘someone’ beyond their control. And this experience may frighten as well as console.

A final criterion as to whether God is inspiring someone in a particular situation is to ask the questions ‘what would Jesus do’? And ‘is this like God’? Christians are to be imitators of Christ. If a situation is harmful and destructive of persons then this is unlikely to be instruction/inspiration from God. The ultimate aim of using these criteria are for a Spiritual Director to support a directee who is discerning moving ever closer towards Our Lord.

I have no idea why some people appear to have many numinous experiences ~ whilst others have so few or even none at all.   But I observed from our small group work that all experience is valid, and usually held dear by the person who experiences it. So one must respond warmly, receptively and with reverence ~ for it is a privilege to have someone share and entrust their most precious experience with us. Its important that the directee feels heard, whilst being allowed the opportunity to go deeper into their experience, and evoke the truth and wonder of their experience in the re-telling of it.

I have experienced many of these numinous experiences, which for me render God absolute without a doubt. On at least 4 occasions now I have been bathed and held in what felt like intensive sunlight rays ~ not a gradual light ~ or a gradual warming ~ but an intense shaft of radiant sunlight in almost spotlight focus directly upon me ~ all consuming and all encompassing ~ leaving me feeling especially cocooned, and reached, and chosen, and singled out ~ I have no idea why. This has happened before witness too ~ some apparently absolutely oblivious ~ and some who have commented on the beauty and the intensity of the light that I was held and bathed in and could not seemingly move from, ultimately leaving me feeling Loved, held, and in awe.

When sharing my numinous experiences I have learned that personally there can be great disappointment when met by others doubt ~ or by others not grasping the numinous wonder and blessing of what it is that I have experienced. Which leaves me at times resistant and cautious in sharing the profound beauty and wonder of my numinous experiences, and possibly others who share their experience who are met with the same reaction might feel this disappointment too. Because sharing your numinous experiences in a forged situation ~ where it may not be received generously ~ could leave you feeling as if it were devalued.

Words and reasoning alone can not do these intense transcendent, beyond sensory experiences justice ~ but our animated expression of them, revealed from the light lit within us pouring outwards, maybe can come somewhere ‘slightly closer’ to recount something special of the sacred moments after they have happened. Therefore whilst we may be left feeling frustrated and disappointed if our sharing is not received well, the ever-enduring inner-resource of joy and concrete belief instilled by the authenticity of our experience, should remain a constant source of wonder, awe, praise, reverence and revelation.

At times I notice there is a big part of me that just wants to savour and bask in the specialness of these special gifted moments. Because to share these experiences in any forged situation with another, and not to be met with the same wonder, awe, gratitude, and amazement or faith, seems somehow to do God an injustice. Yet at other times when the Spirit so moves me, I want to share my experiences with the whole world regardless ~ because the wonder is so Great, and the coincidences so ‘unbelievable’ ~ that it absolutely could be nothing other than God.

What a paradox ~ wanting to secretly savour the intimate hidden treasures of God all to oneself ~ whilst yet wanting to share those intimate hidden treasures with the whole universe at the same time.

Praise God that by writing a little of both is possible.


About mags

Beloved apostle of His Soul x
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