Did you know that on cold nights, indigenous Australians would sleep in a hole in the ground all curled up and snugly with a dingo? If it was a bit colder, they’d sleep with two dogs. If it was really cold, it was a three dog night. Incidentally, that’s where the band Three Dog Night got its name. Apparently their music was supposed to conjure the experience of being in a dark hole with wild dogs…not that there’s anything wrong with that. But I digress.
You know, nobody has ever heard of a three theology book night or a three philosophy book night, unless maybe you’re burning the books to stay warm. Now, I like to read theology and philosophy, but when it comes to my religion, I need way more than ideas about God. I need experience. I need to eat and drink and breathe God…to know him in the Biblical sense. I want to be a monk the way Anthony Bourdain is a chef. That’s my kind of spirituality…raw, real and sensual. I want to dive naked into the divine and live to tell about it.
And yet, as Kierkegaard said, “If I am capable of grasping God objectively, I do not believe, but precisely because I cannot do this I must believe.” However, through belief there is experience.
Here’s an example that’s foundational for what I call spiritual experimentation. I’m not a dualist. I don’t believe that humans are spirits trapped in bodies. I believe that we are spiritual physical beings, a unified whole. We’re essentially living dirt…the nexus of heaven and earth. As a result, when I fast, my “spirit” fasts. By definition, what I do with my body affects my spirit. As a Christian Existentialist, I also believe that the power of my spirit being united with God’s Spirit affects my body. So, during a fast I can have a real, emotional, physical experience with the divine through belief.
Now, of course I could be wrong. From what I’ve read, the digestive system (stomach, intestines, etc.) contains what amounts to a second nervous system that matches the spinal cord and brain in the amount of nerve endings. This second nervous system apparently affects our feelings and sense of well being and is the seat of our emotions. Kind of makes sense when you think about where you feel what you feel. Stress and nervousness are certainly gut feelings, and the feeling of love is experienced in the same place we get heartburn. The kinds of things we feed this system affect our moods and emotions, and the occasional flush or pure diet optimizes the system. That could be the sum total of the experience of fasting, but I choose to believe there’s a spiritual reality involved as well.
The same thing goes for any of the classic spiritual disciplines. Meditation, contemplation, solitude, prayer, silence, service, celebration, etc., all involve the whole person, and through belief can provide an experience of union with God.
But, let’s face it, mention spiritual disciplines and people usually think of monks flogging themselves. That’s why I’m into spiritual experimentation. Experimenting is just more fun than spiritual discipline or spiritual formation. How many people would have experimented with drugs or lesbianism in college if their friends were like, “We hope you will join us for our weekly marijuana discipline group on Saturday and our lesbian formation group on Wednesday.” Experimentation lacks any real commitment. The pressure’s off. You’re not signing up for a way of life, but if you don’t try it, you’ll never know if you like it or not.
My experience with spiritual experimentation, and the experience of those who have experimented with me, has been like making a little tear in the fabric of reality. Once you take a peak through that little hole, you inevitably make the tear a little bigger so you can see more.
Try a week of meditating for 30 minutes every day. Just sit with the awareness that God is all around you and in you. I’ll bet your perception during the other 23.5 hours will start to change appreciably. Then dabble with solitude or silence or my favorite spiritual discipline, celebration. Share your results with me or other experimenters and learn from more experienced dabblers.
Maybe that tear in the fabric of reality will get so big and so much light will come through that you’ll realize you are living and breathing in the very words of God. Maybe you’ll see him speaking to you through crape myrtles and dinner parties. And maybe when life gets cold and dark, the embrace of your heavenly Father will keep you warm through the night. Maybe.
Then again, maybe it’s all nerve endings and an overactive imagination. In that case, you might want to try some dingoes.