Last week I had two brief conversations with two different monks. One told me that, based on his years of contemplation, the entire point of the Christian life is communion with the Holy Trinity, God as three persons. The other monk told me his experience of God was impersonalist.
On the surface, it is so tempting to try to dissect or deconstruct what both of these guys are up to. Whose experience is more valid, more authentic, more nuanced, better interpreted, more orthodox, more (dare I say it) real?
Thankfully, that is only a surface desire, largely borne out of my writerly desire to understand (which is directly plugged in to my prideful desire to manage my own experience). I’m not saying we should just blow off attempts to understand where people are coming from when they share insights into their experiences of prayer or contemplation. But insight needs to arise out of a gentle desire to grow in grace, not some sort of ego-driven compulsion to control.
Several times every day, these two monks gather in the same choir and join their voices in sung prayer and praise. I assume that many times they have sat together in a shared silence. While one is communing with the loving persons of the Trinity, the other experiences an impersonal or perhaps transpersonal presence of the Divine. And yet, they sit together. They praise together. They live together. Neither one of them seems too worked up that the other’s experience (or, perhaps better said, the other’s interpretation of his experience) is so different. I suppose this is possible because each understands that the spiritual life is really about God, not about themselves or the beauty or truth or goodness of their experience.
They live an experiential faith. And they hold their experience lightly.