Conservative Friend

    An Outreach of Stillwater Monthly Meeting of Ohio Yearly Meeting of Friends

A Seeker Asks How We "Personally Experience" a Living God

A seeker asks:  I am interested in the concept of a relationship with the Person of Jesus based on personal experience rather than theological belief.  You say that "Christ has come to teach His people Himself."  How does this take place in the real world?

A Conservative Friend replies:  Your interest strikes right at the root of all religion, and is the most important question that any Friend can ask. Scripture describes accounts of individuals who were granted physical manifestations of Jesus of Nazareth after his death that are surely the epitome of "personal experience." I personally know real-life individuals who have had similar real-life encounters with the same supernatural apparition. The Christian revelation is a continuing one, but in my opinion should be described as "cumulative," rather than "continuing," because I see the source as transcending our individual natures.  It is also internally and eternally consistent--"continuing" implies that it will contradict itself.  And I would also change your term, "theological belief" into "memorized doctrine," when I am talking about relying on other people's experiences.  I can discover for myself that theological belief speaks most clearly and truthfully to my condition, but if I try to substitute the discoveries of others for my own, I miss the mark.

My personal experience of the supernatural is limited, but it is definite, clear, and frequent. I encounter God in dreams, visions, voices, intuitive leadings, and impossible coincidences, and God wins the encounter with my empirical hard-science backgound every time. What I read in scripture--mostly Christian scripture, but sometimes others--leads me directly to the Christian revelation fundamental to pre-separation Quakerism. I don't think Fox was nuts when he talked about Jesus, and I don't think he spoke in Christian terms because that was all he knew. Christian, Body of Christ, Jesus-of-Nazareth-is-the-Christ-is-the-Light Quakerism is one which I have not intellectually outgrown and continues to be the clearest explanation of my own experience.

With respect to theology, eschatology, christology, bibliology, and most other -ologies, I don't think they are important until they are 1) discovered personally to be true, and 2) actually make a difference in what one does, as opposed merely to what one says or writes. Margaret Fell cried out in her Anglican church after hearing Fox speak, that she and every one else were thieves, attempting to wear someone else's spiritual clothing in order to usurp the revelation. A very clear Friend of mine who has also had personal and intense encounters with an animate, sentient, and personal God once told me that a lesson granted him during one encounter was to believe nothing until it was personally revealed to him. This doesn't mean to scorn the discoveries of others, present or past, written or otherwise, but to pray for and be receptive to the granting of one's own personal desire for revelation.

Your point is very, very important, because it is the first one a Friend should try to address, no matter what kind of Friend they are.