Reading Holy Texts as a "Spiritual Experiment"
Roy Clouser on a technique for "opening up your experience"
Many individuals hold certain books to be sacred.
The Bible, the Tao te Ching, the Vedas and the Upanishads, the Koran, the Dhammapada and the Pali Canon are the big ones.
We often approach these texts as if they’re either museum exhibits or instruction manuals. Our task, we sometimes seem to think, is to plunder them for mere “beliefs” and “values” which we then extract, reassemble into rules, and try live by.
This “instruction manual” approach can have its value, and its appeal.
But in the book Knowing With the Heart, Roy Clouser, a professor of Philosophy and Religion, describes a different approach.
He describes sacred texts as vehicles for direct experience.
In other words, these texts can become doorways to Experiential Spirituality. (Our words, not his.)
He suggests that we “look at a theology – not as dogma but as a help to opening up your experience.”
He says this:
“To know whether it is true, you need to perform the experiment of seeking your own experience of God.” (italics ours.)
So, what is the “experiment”?
First, be in a state where you sincerely want truth. Whatever that truth might be, like it nor not.
Then, there’s simply reading holy texts. But it’s reading for the experience of it.
As Clouser says:
Finally, if you are really serious about being open-minded and “giving it a fair shake,” you would try saying prior to each Scripture reading something like “If you’re really there, God, show me.”
He mentioned doing this hypothetically, but while taking it seriously.
That’s it. That’s the experiment.
If you try that and nothing happens, you still won’t know why any of us find the biblical message to be God speaking to us. (In that case I’d say, “Try it again!”) If you do experience it to be the truth about God from God, then you’ll find that you also have experienced God speaking to you.
But how, or why, does this work?
Clouser quotes George Mavrodes who explains how theology – which otherwise might seem like wild speculation – might be surprisingly useful when seen through the lends of experiential spirituality:
Theology may seem a cumbersome apparatus and in fact we may not need it all at once. It may also seem singularly ill supported. But if some part of it makes contact with some element in our experience so that each illuminates the other, then we may take new interest in that theology. If it goes beyond this, it serves to light up broad ranges of our experience so that we begin to see a kind of sense in our lives, then perhaps we will be more than interested.
(George Mavrodes, Belief in God, p. 87)
We often see our brain as something like a computer hard drive that we “load” with information.
But the perspective offered here suggests something different.
It suggests that our brain is something more like a radio dial.
We can “tune in” to different signals. Or “tune out” from others.
Sacred scriptures, then, might offer us an opportunity to "tune in" to some “channels” that might really "open up our experience."