Thursday, October 15, 2015


Beyond the Normal—A Unitarian Universalist Perspective
By Reverend Tom Capo 

An Experience That Transformed

Jim Mulac, a member of a Unitarian Universalist congregation I served, developed a life-threatening illness.  We discussed what he wanted in a Celebration of his Life service and to reflect on how he had lived his life. 

Jim was a jazz pianist, a poet, a bookstore owner, a husband, father, a friend to many.  And Jim was an atheist.  As we reflected on his life, he told me of an experience he had many years before.  He had a near death, or out-of-body experience, in which he headed toward a light and saw deceased family and friends waiting for him.  

This experience was transformative for Jim; after he chose to live life as fully as he could every single day.  Jim came to believe that there is something after death—though he pondered till the day he died what that was.

Insight, Wisdom, Awareness, Perspective

Perhaps you have had a uniquely significant experience that struck you, that was so profound and moving that you were unable to adequately describe it in words.  Perhaps that experience did something to you, changed you in some way.  This type of experience may be transitory.  It may pass quickly in and out of our consciousness.  These experiences may offer new insight, wisdom, awareness, perspective.  Some people say that they feel more connected to something larger after such an experience.

And I have felt a presence that disturbs me with the joy of elevated thoughts;
A sense sublime of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,

and the round ocean and the living air,
a motion and a spirit, that impels

all thinking things, all objects of all thought,
and rolls through all things.

--by poet William Wordsworth

Questions UUs May Wonder About Experiences “Beyond the Normal”

How do we as Unitarian Universalists make sense of these kind of “beyond the normal” of experiences?  And how do we share these experiences with one another?  Or do we share them with one another?  Does our church family feel like a safe and accepting space to share such things?  How would you respond if someone here shared with you a near death experience?  What if they shared a mystical experience or a transformative life-changing experience with you?  

In our normal day to day life, people tend to be more interested in how to be effective and efficient, and less interested in the extraordinary. 

The Place of the Mystical Experience in a Unitarian Universalist Church

Knowledge is the collection of what we learn and what we experience. 

Wisdom helps us make sense of our knowledge—helps us to decide and judge what aspects of that knowledge are true to our lives.

Insight deepens our wisdom so that we may live our values with meaning, in a way that is congruent with our deepest selves.

Life Always Has More to Teach

When Unitarian Universalists say “revelation is not sealed” we mean that life always has more to teach, and reflection on what we learn through our life experiences helps us accumulate wisdom. 

So we come back to, how can a “beyond the normal” experience lead to wisdom; how can wisdom lead a person to have a positive impact on the world, and lead to insight to deepen the meaning with which we live our lives.

The Story of Francis

Francis of Assisi, a late 12 and early 13th century Catholic preacher and friar had a mystical experience.  His experience transformed him from a rich boy who spent money on indulgences for himself and his friends to a person who renounced all his worldly goods.  He believed that he had received messages from god to do specific work in the world: rebuild a church, care for people and animals, start religious orders.  

Whatever you may think of Francis’s story—Catholic myth or historical truth, or something else, most of us agree that he had a profound experience.  And from this profound experience he made meaning.  And from the meaning he had a profound effect on the world. 

Perhaps you too may have had a profound, perhaps transcendent, experience, found meaning from it in such a way as to benefit humanity, animals, the planet. 

Transcendence as Becoming “Un-self focused”

American writer, activist and pagan Starhawk speaks of the transcendent experience as a larger world-consciousness pressing in on our individual consciousness.  Often it breaks in suddenly and becomes a great new revelation.  “A person emerges from a smaller limited world of existence into a larger world of being.  His or her life becomes swallowed up in a larger whole.”

These experiences can push against our narrow life focus, give us the opportunity to have a larger worldview . . . the extent to which we explore this larger worldview depends on how comfortable we are in a universe that is not centered around our own personality

Starhawk reminds us that these experiences can push against our relatively narrow life focus, giving us the opportunity to have a larger worldview and to become increasingly un-self focused.  The extent to which we explore this larger worldview depends on our own choices—how far we are willing to let go of the self, how comfortable we are in a universe that is not centered around our own personality.

We Are Primed for the Transcendent Experience

I believe we’re primed for transcendent, profound, transformational experiences; I don’t think it matters whether you are a humanist, a mystic, an atheist, a Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, Jew—or something else.  We have the opportunity to re-evaluate our lives, our priorities, to look at the world with wonder and awe, to break down the barriers that culture has placed before us, to explore new ways of living, being, and doing in the world.  

These are properties of the human mind and as far as I am aware; no other living creature has the capacity for transcendent experiences.  A case could be made that other plant and animal species adapt to their environments, so as to be more successful or dominant, but adaptation is not the same as transformation, just as knowledge is not the same as wisdom or insight.

Humans can choose to explore their personal beliefs, can become more intentionally self-reflective, and can change the world. “People wouldn't go into science [or social justice work or ministry or journey into their selves, their beliefs, their lives] unless there was something much bigger to be discovered, something that is transcendent" (David Eagleman).
What meaning will you make of a transcendent or profound experience?  Will you ignore it?  Dismiss it? Ponder it?  Be transformed by it?  What wisdom, enlightenment, insight, wonder will you take from it?  How un-self-focused will you become as a result?  When the larger world consciousness presses on your own consciousness, how will you live in a universe that is not centered on your own personality?  These are the questions I leave you with as you back go out into a world that will offer you experiences that are beyond the normal.

People wouldn't go into science unless there was something much bigger to be discovered, something that is transcendent

David Eaglema

I encourage you to be open to those experiences that are beyond the everyday routine.  Be ready, so you can connect with something that brings spirit, wisdom, the holy, transformation, world consciousness into your life.  May what you connect with be expanded in your heart, be exhaled upon your lips, and be expressed through your life.

Blessings, Rev. Tom

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