Pan Blog #1: Religious Experience
Describe your most formative religious experience. I am assuming that most of us are, or have been, some form of a Christian (probably born-again), so what I have in mind is that sort of testimonial-type of event in your past that led you to, or closer to, God. If you are no longer a Christian, describe how you feel about that experience now.
My first religious experience occurred when I was four (at least, this is the first I remember). I later explained it to my parents at the age of five and six and even later as when I became 'born again'. I think my parents were a bit sceptical of how a four-year-old could experience Christ's presence and claim to be 'born again', but even at a young age I seemed to have an early connexion with the divine or the spiritual or whatever you want to call it. Anyway, what I remember is playing with toys alone in my room, and feeling God's presence. That's even how I described it to my family years later when asked about my conversion experience. I felt Christ telling me to pray and talk to him and ask him 'into my heart'. I don't know how accurate this memory is, but I remember being very sure of it at one point. A year later, during our very first day of homeschool, my mother led us in a Bible lesson that described heaven and hell. My mother told me that she would be in heaven with my father, and I needed to accept Christ to be with them, or else I'd burn in hell. I don't remember being terribly scarred by how she said it, so she probably was nice about it, but thinking about that now makes me cringe. It was definitely a fire insurance conversion, and I'm not sure if later I projected back into my past that first experience with Christ to compensate for the second less-authentic conversion. The first one seemed very real, so I guess it all depends on your definition of reality.
Another important religious experience in my life (and these all occurred when I still described myself as Evangelical) happened at the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) denomination's youth conference in Salt Lake City, UT. I was newly sixteen years old, and at the time pretty much obsessed with whether or not I was following God's will for my life. I had a very defined idea of what *I* wanted, but I was also convinced that it couldn't be that God and I wanted the same things. I had been wrestling with this for years, since as a young girl I felt God 'calling me' to full-time ministry in the Evangelical church as a missionary. My plans included being a neurosurgeon and 'helping people'. At any rate, it was during a service at the conference when I started to doubt my fire insurance conversion and my committment to the Christian life. I figured I mustn't be very committed, since I was constantly wrestling with giving over to God my dreams of being a doctor. During one service, I was overcome with what I saw as my own selfishness and told God that I would follow Him (I characterized God as a male entity, which isn't surprising) and not be a doctor if He wanted. That moment drastically changed my future plans and led me to study music, to be perfectly honest. I went home from that conference and re-vamped my academic plans for junior year, adding music study and telling my piano teacher that I planned to be a piano major. There was something about the speaker and what I felt was God's presence that caused me to change my life. To be honest, I'm extremely glad I never became a doctor. I would have been awful at it; all that memorizing of facts and details without original thought -- it would have bored me to tears. It would have been a lot of heavy science and math, too, and these are subjects thatt were not in my comfort zone. I guess you could say that a Christian fundamentalist religious experience eventually led me to academia, musicology, and postmodern Christianity! For that, I am glad to have had the experience.
Since slowly giving up Evangelicalism since ca. 2002, I can't remember having any more similar religious experiences or what many Evangelicals call 'mountain top experiences with God'. I can think of times when I attempted to create them. However, that doesn't mean that I don't feel God speaking to me. It's just that now she has become more rational, as I have become more rational. She does not overcome me and force me to listen, but quietly whispers suggestions and ideas and convictions into my ear. My conscience has become a more important vehicle for my newfound culturally-sensitive brand of Christianity, rather than a strict, blind adherence to a literal Truth outlined by the Bible or a religious zealot. In a way, I feel closer to God. Rather than needing an excessive emotional experience, I can experience her quietly and in my everyday life. I don't need a shouting Evangelical preacher or even a beautiful Anglican choir to experience God. She's right here, with me right now, and I can feel her love.