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Friedrich Schleiermacher was a professor at the University of Berlin and is known as the “Father of Modern Theology.” It might seem strange to find his name in this section on experiences of God. However, Schleiermacher was born in Prussian. While living in Prussia his family was influenced (as was Scheiermacher himself) by Count Zinzendorf and the Moravians.

Nineteen Century Europe was experiencing a general religious demise. Most intellectuals were abandoning the church, believing they had grown beyond their need for God. In his book, On Religion, Scheiermacher “began to articulate a defense for religious experience that remains relevant today–relevant today because it captures the vital core of every legitimate experience of God.”
As Beebe outlines the five speeches of On Religion, Scheiermacher is concerned with both our outward and inward forms of religious experience and with the role of the community of faith in helping us to understand these experiences.
Scheiermacher became an advocate for the Christian faith and combatted the skeptics of his day.
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John Wesley was already a Christian, but felt there was something lacking in his faith. He took a trip to the colony of Georgia. While sailing to the new colony, their ship encountered a tremendous storm. Beebe and Foster write, “Wesley was overwhelmed by the courage and faith of his fellow passengers, the Moravians. As waves crashed across the top of the ship and their demise seemed imminent, Wesley could hear the Moravians singing and praising God.” This experience had a great impact on Wesley.

In fact, Wesley included “experience” as the fourth source for our paths to knowing God. These four sources are known as “The Wesleyan Quadrilateral.” The four sources are Scripture (the primary source), reason, tradition, and experience.
Wesley was also greatly concerned with community. He was a great organizer. As he went around proclaiming the Gospel, he organized new converts into different sized groups. Each person was expected to belong to three. The largest group Wesley called “Societies.” Societies were essential congregational churches. These societies gathered for worship, fellowship, and nurture. The next group Wesley called “Classes.” Classes were groups of no more than 50, organized for instruction and prayer. The smallest groups were “Bands.” Bands were single-sex groups of no more than 10 that met every week for accountability (“mutual, loving confession”). These groups became the method in “Methodism.”

George Fox was born in England. He belonged to the Church of England, but left to join the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). He spoke about our direct access to Christ as our teacher (greatly upsetting the religious authorities). He faced great persecution. (The Quakers were not an approved religion.)

Beebe and Foster identify “Seven Elements in Our Life with God” drawn from the work of George Fox.
  1. Every true Christian has direct, immediate experiences of Jesus.
  2. These experiences are best understood by relating them to evidences from Scripture.
  3. These experiences not only confirm current leadings but also provide new insights as we move through life.
  4. Scripture teaches us how to relate our experiences of the historical Jesus with the leadings of the inward Christ.
  5. By identifying with Jesus we enter into his sufferings and understand our own experiences of suffering in relationship to him.
  6. The community of faith is more important than religious traditions.
  7. All of these insights and experiences lead us into the pure love of God.

Julian was born in England, shortly before the black plague ravished that country. She was an anchoress, a woman who lived in a one-room apartment attached to a church. On May 8, 1372 she began to have a series of sixteen religious experiences. She called these experiences “showings.” Beebe summarizes these experiences:

  1. Julian sees blood trickling from the crown of thorns on the crucifix and has experiences of the Trinity and of the blessed virgin.
  2. Julian sees the face on the crucifix change color.
  3. Julian sees God in an instant and understands that he is in all things.
  4. Julian sees blood flowing from the wounds on Christ’s body and then vanishing.
  5. God shows that Christ’s Passion defeats the devil.
  6. God thanks Julian for her suffering and shows her the bliss of heaven.
  7. God gives Julian alternating experiences of joy and sorrow.
  8. Julian sees Christ’s body drying as he suffers bodily death, and shares in the pain caused to all creatures. Her reason suggests to her that she should look up to heaven, but she chooses instead the dying Jesus as her heaven.
  9. Jesus affirms his pleasure in suffering for Julian’s sake, and shows her three heavens in his humanity.
  10. Jesus shows Julian his heart within his wounded side.
  11. Jesus allows Julian to see the blessed virgin.
  12. God reveals himself in glory.
  13. God affirms that, despite sin and and suffering, all shall be well.
  14. God tells Julian that prayers are inspired by him and please him.
  15. God promises Julian that he will be her reward for suffering.
  16. God shows Julian Jesus in her soul and grants her certainty that her showings comes from Jesus, thus confirming his existence and trust to her.
Foster reflects, “The mystical revelations in Julian’s book Showings revolve around the passion of Christ, and perhaps the key take-home value for me is that they remind me to approach the cross of Christ with all my heart.”

The fifth path that Beebe and Foster identify in Longing for God is “The Right Ordering of Our Experiences of God.” By these experiences they are referring to the ecstatic experiences that some have of God. I’ve not had such an experience (and in the reading Beebe and Foster don’t claim such experiences either), but I’ve known people whom I trust who have had such experiences. Beebe and Foster claim that these experiences are not given to the individual alone, but to the church.

They have a purpose. “However impressive teachings about God’s love may be, if divine grace were not ever experienced, these teachings would remain a mere abstraction.” God is not an abstraction.
“All of us are promised an ultimate intimacy with God, while a few of us seem to enjoy this reality here and now. It seems that God gives this life to a few people in order to encourage the rest of us and let us know what awaits each of us in the life to come. These ecstatic or mystical experiences are a gift to encourage the church. They are not given so that an individual can elevate him or herself over any other Christian who has not had this specific experience. They are meant to lead us all to knowledge of God through Jesus Christ.”

Ignatius of Loyola is one of the great conversion stories in history. Ignatius was a soldier. In 1521 he was wounded in battle. He suffered injuries to both legs. He was required to rest for several months during his recovery. He read from St. Francis and Thomas a Kempis. Then while on pilgrimage he came to the Benedictine monastery of Montserrat. He eventually gathered ten men in 1534 and formed the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits).

During this time he developed The Spiritual Exercises. The Spiritual Exercises give guidance for understanding life with God. They are centered around four weeks with each week focusing on a different aspect.
Week One: Moral Reform. “The purpose of moral reform is to channel our desires and harness our passions in a way that allows us to attend to the mysteries of the life of Christ. Since we are created to praise God, we need to understand how this can occur.” So, this first week asks us to reflect on our sin and its power to disrupt life with God.
Week Two: Our Life with God. “Ignatius opens week two by focusing on the role of the imagination in ‘illuminating’ our life with God.” “Ignatius sees the imagination as creating contact with the living reality of Jesus Christ.” Ignatius encourages us to focus on key events in the life of Christ and use our imagination of actively engage in this events.
Week Three: Identifying with Christ. “Week three is devoted to imaginative reflection on the passion of Jesus. Like week two, week three uses real stories from the Gospels to draw us into full identity and union with the life and sufferings of Jesus.”
Week Four: Full Identity with Christ and Service to the World. “In this final week, Ignatius insists that no meaningful life with God can occur apart from our active life in the world.”

I greatly enjoy reading a Kempis’ classic, The Imitation of Christ. It is profound in its simplicity. It was originally written as a journal. There’s not a lot of organization. The passages are short. But there is a lot there.

Gayle Beebe identifies eight central priorities about which a Kempis writes. “First, when we cultivate humility we destroy self-centeredness and enter the pathway to God. Then, humility allows us to develop a clear conscience based on the active cultivation of virtue. Next, we discover inner peace. As a result, everything in our life begins to flow out of a spontaneous response to the pure love of God. Then we are prepared to encounter the cross and discover the full impact of Christ. This helps us see that God wants to lead us into the life-changing experience of eternal life. As a result, we strive to become true imitators of Christ. Finally, we become ruled not by nature but by grace.”
Beebe also identifies thirty contrasts between nature and grace. Here are a few:
  • Nature is crafty and seductive, while grace walks in simplicity.
  • Nature is self-centered, while grace does everything purely for God.
  • Nature is lazy, while grace joyfully looks for something to do.
  • Nature is quick to complain, while grace endures all things resolutely.
  • Nature wants to be noticed by others, while grace wants to be noticed by God.

As a child, Bonaventure became deathly ill. His mother prayed in the name of St. Francis. Bonaventure was healed felt forever indebted to St. Francis.

Beebe and Foster write, “Bonaventure provides us with a comprehensive philosophy of life. Unfortunately, much of his writing is simply too obscure–even some of his writings on Christ remain remote and inaccessible.”
Bonaventure does identify six sources of spiritual knowledge:
  • The literal and allegorical understanding of Scripture.
  • The enduring writings of the great saints of the church.
  • The contemporary writings of great spiritual masters.
  • The integrative writings of expects in the human disciplines.
  • “The book of nature.”
  • The mature wisdom to read “the book of experience.”

Francis was born to a wealthy family, but found his life increasingly meaningless. Against their protests he renounced his wealth and his family. He took to heart Christ’s command to the rich, young ruler, “Go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor” (Matthew 19:21). He sought “to live for God alone by imitating Christ alone.”

Beebe and Foster write, “The central theme for Francis was imitation of Jesus. Our attempts to imitate Christ connect us with the expression of God in the world. We must be obedient to God in everything, which means following the life and spirit of Jesus always.”
Francis developed a great appreciation for God’s creation. He sought to live out his life in “passionate devotion,” “radical simplicity,” and “joyful humility.”

Beebe and Foster identify “Intimacy with Jesus Christ” as the fourth path in their book Longing For God. They write, “From the times of Christ, Jesus’ followers have sought ways to imitate him. The New Testament is filled with examples of how experiences from Jesus’ life became the model for early Christians.”

This imitation took various forms at different times. Sometimes one aspect of Christ’s life was emphasized. At other times something else was emphasized. “Beginning in the fourth century, the virgines sacrae were consecrated to perpetual virginity as an expression of the imitation of Christ. Syriac Christians followed suit, initially understanding discipleship as a literal imitation of the poor, homeless, celibate Jesus. In Ireland, the Celtic Christians practiced a form of voluntary exile and deprivation know as ‘the green martyrdom,’ traveling as itinerant ministers in faith and obedience just as Jesus had done.”
In the thirteenth century a new approach developed. This new approach came to be known as the devotio moderna, the new way. Followers of this new way attempted to live life the way Christ had lived. “No longer were Christians called to a life of solitary prayer. Now they were to be in the world, preaching, praying and facing the same challenges Jesus had.”