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Varieties of Religious Experience


Psychologist William James wrote a book called “Varieties of Religious Experience.”

In this classic book, James describes moments when people have experienced God’s presence in their lives in remarkable ways. For example, a man was standing on a hillside at night. Suddenly, he felt his soul soaring upward as he sensed a powerful presence. He says: “I could not any more have doubted that God was there than that I was. Indeed, I felt myself to be, if possible, the less real of the two.” While praying in church before the Blessed Sacrament, praying in community, or reaching out to someone in need, a sense of peace overcomes you that words cannot express.

These examples give us insight into what the disciples must have experienced in today’s gospel. While Jesus was praying in their presence, suddenly “he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white.” Then “a cloud...cast a shadow over them, and ...from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.’” That moment strengthened their faith in a remarkable way.

The experiences William James described, and those felt by the disciples on the mountain is what theologians call “a moment of grace.” It is a moment when the border between heaven and earth seems to fade for a brief period and the glory of God shines into our world. It is a moment when, for a split second in time, God’s presence is felt in our lives, and we get a glimpse of eternity.

Moments of Grace are gifts from God. We need to be open, dispose ourselves to them, be present and alert. How do we awaken or open ourselves up to these God Moments, Moments of Grace?

The Book “Five Practices of Fruitful Living” by Robert C. Schnase, discusses practicing radical receptivity to God and others, along with attentiveness on the importance of noticing what God notices and seeing the world through God’s eyes. It takes a passionate attentiveness to notice the movement of the spirit, to hear whispers of God’s grace, to discern the presence and power of God among us, to identify the calling of God.

As we practice spiritual attentiveness, we begin to see the world differently. We begin to question: Where is God in this? What does God want me to attend to? What does the world look like through God’s eyes?

The message is wonderfully simple but profoundly important. Be alert. Notice people. Notice God at work in Loving Service. Listen for God in Prayer, and God’s calling. Look for the coming of Christ again and again into our lives and the lives of others around us as we continue this Lenten Journey.

Blessings, Dcn Joe


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