Mysticism, Hallucinations, and Designer Spirituality

BC_GodinMyHead_1The dustcover of Joshua Steven Grisetti’s new book God in My Head announces that the author “experienced an accidental prescription drug overdose at a dentist’s office and subsequently had an unexpected encounter with the Almighty Creator the Universe.” Grisetti’s drug induced hallucinations opened the doors of perception, to use Aldous Huxley’s language, and awakened him to the vastness of the universe and a deity quite different than the patriarchal, often vindictive, loving, and ambiguous god of his fundamentalist upbringing. Grisetti doesn’t intend to be a prophet, nor does he desire to start a new religion or claim any external warrant for his hallucinogenic experience. Indeed he notes that none of his experience particularly matters, except to him, and the ways it changed his life.

While not claiming to be a theologian, Grisetti notes that his experience has a theological perspective: “that God may actually exist…dwells in our unconscious minds, gently guiding us to hear His voice in ways that we are most capable of listening….the messages we receive from that divine voice may be a purposeful intertwining of our own individual life experience and God Himself.”

This is an honest statement, and no doubt points to some aspect of the divine-human relationship. The God of the universe is both global and personal. God is more than we can imagine, and no doubt has a unique perspective and vision for each of us and for the universe and our planet. As a Christian, I see this vision as Shalom, the wholeness of persons, communities, and the planet. Yet, the global is intensely personal. The absolute is profoundly relational. We not only experience God from our own unique perspective, culture, and religious tradition; God also comes to us with possibilities, dreams, and commands unique to our situation, luring us forward toward the highest good for ourselves, others, and the planet.

Ironically, God is the ultimate relativist and most profound globalist. We not only have, to use evangelical language, a personal relationship with God; God has a personal relationship with us. While this doesn’t reduce religion to pure relativism, or suggest an equality of perspectives on God or Truth, it does recognize that God has many faces – one of the meanings of the Trinity is divine diversity – and that God has a “pharmaceutical” approach to spirituality, God presents us with what we need and when we need it to be most faithful to our vocation as God’s companions in healing the earth. God never gives us too much or too little, when we are ready; God gives us what we need to be whole in just the right dose.

God comes to my young grandchildren with a different vision than to their 63 year old grandfather. God has a different vision for me as a married pastor-teacher than for single adult, struggling with her or his sexual identity. My imperfections, sin, gifts, and dreams are the materials with which God works to nurture my highest good and the highest good I can contribute to my community. We are called to aspire to world visions, not just individual visions and to world-loyalty not just self-interest, but God – as Grisetti suggests – takes us, to use an evangelical revival hymn, “just as I am.”

The fact that Grisetti’s experience was drug induced does not fully invalidate his experience. We may get to our destination by plane or care, but immediate hallucinogenic experiences or by patient spiritual practices. Certain indigenous peoples use hallucinogens to open the doors of perception. In contrast to Grisetti’s experience, these ritual experiences are quite intentional and part of a larger spiritual context and culture. Still, unexpected hallucinations, like unexpected encounters with God, for example, Paul on the road to Damascus, can be life-changing and give us enough truth for the next step. Experiences need to be tested and judged in relationship to other truths, for example, scriptures, traditions, reason, and the best of culture. Still, we cannot deny the experience, whether it is a near death experience, a mystical experience seen to come from God, a sudden insight, or the result of years dedicated to spiritual practices.

If Grisetti is portraying his experience as accurately and honestly as possible, then I have no reason to doubt that for him it is life-changing and revealed something of God’s vision for him in light of his fundamentalist background. The hardscrabble world of spiritual growth involves building on mystical experiences and grounding them in the challenging world of everyday life.

This is the gift of religious traditions and communities. In all their imperfections, authentic religious traditions join mysticism and ethics, and contemplation and action, test our experiences and direct them toward making the world more reflective of God’s Shalom vision for us all.

Read an excerpt from God in My Head at the Patheos Book Club HERE.

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