I was born and raised and still practice Roman Catholicism but grew up with an ecumenical outlook since my Dad was a convert from the southern Baptist tradition and I just knew, had strong beliefs, that my Dad's Baptist parents and their 13 Baptist offspring were going to be there with me in heaven one day, along with my Roman Catholic parents and my 6 siblings.
My most influential formative spiritual experiences were as a teenager in the Charismatic Renewal of the Catholic Church. Also, I was heavily involved in youth and music ministries and the Church's retreat movements on manifold fronts.
Most of my adult life has been a trial of faith much akin to what Therese of Lisieux described in her autobiography; her trial of faith or crisis of belief has been a source of great consolation to me.
I almost self-diagnosed a Dark Night but conclude that that could be the proverbial cop-out, that, however consonant the description of this fog on Mt Carmel was to my malaise, it still just amounts to a brilliant rationalization. At the same time, following Ignatius, I hope this desolation and aridity don't find their genesis in a very conventional and mundane episode of back-sliding.
Despite all this I still love passionately and live the moral life; I still go through the motions of my Catholic faith and believe that it most perfectly articulates the manner in which our God would condescend to humankind. However, for about three years, on dozens of occasions, I enjoyed profoundly ecstatic numinous experiences which came and left of their own accord and have at least mitigated some of my angst by raising my outlook to that of what I can only describe as an existentialist, agnostic with sneaking suspicions and I am, like Simone (Weil), waiting on God for that gift of certitude that is Hers alone to give.
I saw nothing, heard nothing, touched nothing. I would usually be dreaming and would encounter manifold and varied situations which would move me to a loving awe, an unspeakable yes to a deep okayness, and then in an instant I would awaken and lying still in my bed all cognitive content would disappear and all would be silent and black and then my only sensations were an intense but vague somatic awareness that sensed intensely pleasurable goosebumps over the whole surface of my body from head to toe and moving as if in waves of electricity from head to toe or vice versa and growing in intensity and as they grew in intensity they permeated beneath my skin and they would further grow in pleasure/intensity and permeate my musculature and then organs and my very marrow and my body felt like it was convulsing as if being shocked although I have the clear notion I was in fact quite still and on occasion there was an extreme vertigo as if I were violently spinning in a vortex of all-consuming okayness and love and pleasure and any experience of orgasm could not speak to these experiences and the only cognition I recall was my nonverbal communication: "Don't leave me. Please don't leave me." and always it was if an unseen but definitely present spectre would slowly disappear and the process would fade in a precise reverse fashion that is the waves would then ebb and I would merely lay in bed and say Jesus over and over until I fell back asleep and I recorded (on a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit desk calendar mind you) only the inscriptions NE1, NE2, NE3 with the alphanumeric indicating "numinous experiences of varying intensities" and they lasted for about three years and I found no exact context within which to place the experiences in my faith or science perspectives until I came upon a quote from Isaac of Nineveh: "It happens at certain moments that delight and enjoyment invade the whole body. And the fleshly tongue can say no more; to such degrees now have earthly objects become but dust and ashes. The initial delights, those of the heart, fill us while we are awake. The spirit burns at the hour of prayer, at the moment of reading, in the course of frequent meditations or long contemplations. But the final delights come to us differently, often during the night, in the following way: when we are between sleep and wakefulness, when we are asleep without being asleep and awake without being really awake. These delights invade a person and the whole body throbs. It is clear then that this is nothing other than the kingdom of heaven."
And if one could will these events one would but alas I knew not then and know not now whither and why they would come or would go and neither could one will to stop them for one was so very intense I knew that I would die right then and did not want to for manifold reasons and yet it did not stop and I had an element of fear even within the pleasure of it all, but it all passed that is to say: these consolations ceased.
I did nothing to bring them on. I did nothing to stop them. I was a sinner before, during and after them and remain so. I feel like I am more compassionate, long-suffering and forbearing in the years since these experiences. It took me years to tell anyone anything. These experiences had no sexual overtones but were so much more intensely pleasurable than any orgasm one could possibly have. I tried to rationalize the experiences away, in retrospect, as some oxygen depletion-endorphin release-near death experience, etc., but my reasoning ability and need to explain are truly frustrated.
I never practiced formal meditation or contemplative prayer technique knowingly but know that retrospectively a Brother Lawrence or Way of the Pilgrim-type practice of constant and continual turning to God throughout the day in glossolalia was de facto contemplative. I also prayed and sang, aloud and mentally, very often (still do) O' Come, O' Come Emmanuel for two decades before these experiences. The experiences increased my confident assurance in things hoped for, but unlike others, I don't KNOW with a certainty any matters of faith and I can still suffer bouts of existential doubt and angst (sorry). I love much and am passionately in touch with human suffering.
In closing, a word from Thomas Merton: "And so, many contemplatives never become great saints, never enter into close friendship with God, never find a deep participation in His immense joys, because they cling to the miserable little consolations that are given to beginners in the contemplative way."
Gulp! oh well. Therese of Lisieux and Simone Weil, pray for me.
Think of God as one who relentlessly pursues you. I have often thought of God as follows: She is a cute little girl on the playground Who is chasing me, much to my chagrin. I run from Her. She never quite catches up with me. When I am very young, I really want nothing to do with Her. She remains a nuisance. She remains in pursuit of me whenever I set foot on the playground, even as I am getting older. In my pre-adolescence, I glance over my shoulder at times and I feel confused; I sometimes think of maybe letting Her catch me, but I am unsure for it seems best to stick with that strategy which has served me so well from childhood. After all, what would the boys think of me, letting Her catch me? The days and years go by and the playground pursuit is the only constant in my life and I am glancing over my shoulder longer and my confusion is giving way to new feelings.
I notice Her Beauty and I imagine what it would be like to be close to Her and, for the first time, I feel strangely and strongly attracted to Her. I resolve to get caught. I wonder: "What in the world was I thinking all these years, running from this gorgeous Creature?"
And She catches me and we collapse laughing and giggling into the flowered clovers and we embrace and the universe explodes with meaning and all of the eros and limerance and infatuation and chemistry of that universe are focused here, in time, in me, in Her, in us and I am left there, at once mystified and even somewhat stupefied!
Then, of a sudden, She is gone. I look around and see Her standing there and our eyes meet and we smile and She takes off running, laughing and giggling, taunting and teasing, now with me in pursuit! How the tables have turned!
And now I am filled with longing, yearning, pining for She has run clean over the horizon and out of sight! But, at times, I think I hear Her giggle and swear I can glimpse Her face in a crowd.
At all times, I think of Her and my heart aches, sweetly.