Experiential theology 2

Given that our sense of a living God and our sense of our self changes over time and as a result of our experiences, then at any point our insights and beliefs can only be approximations – what have been called ‘endless approximations’. Jung saw this deepening sense of God and self as approaching a centre or rather going around it but incrementally nearer. As Jung inched by inched to get nearer he found a corresponding depotentiation where the ego gets less important and the centre – a feeling of emptiness – here not meaning absence or vacant but rather unknowability endowed with the highest intensity that Jung calls God – increased. This God he thought also includes a large part of the self. But it is here that his ability to experience reached its finite point. ‘The ego can merely affirm that something vitally important is happening to it.’

For Merton there is a difference between the experience of God as one who is present – this is the God of revelation – to the God of the mystic, where, a bit like Jung’s experience of reaching the edge of cognition and affirmation by the ego, Merton writes about being lost in God. In ‘The Seven Storey Mountain’ Merton describes God as ‘that centre Who is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.’

Neither writer is reducing God to the level of an object or a thing – this is sadly what happens in much religious writing. The invitation is more to experience for oneself and with the understanding of paradox, approximation and limitlessness. This is the God who will not be pinned down by a manifesto or a doctrine or a set of conditions – this is the God without limits and boundaries. As Merton puts it: ‘He transcends them all and hence is not to be sought among them’. God is not to be found amongst all that he has made but nothing can be separated from the God who created them. Like the Sanskrit teaching ‘neti neti’ – ‘not this not this’ God is transcendent – not this object and not that thing but also immanent in all creatures as the ground of every creature’s being.

So, our experiences of God become mediated through concepts as best it can be and through the experiences written down by others – perhaps also in our own notebooks and from our own glimpses of the something ‘more than ourselves’.