Message by Jason Storbakken
Let me begin by sharing two stories of personal revelation that led to deep transformation. The first is Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk and major religious figure of the 20th century.
Thomas Merton’s personal revelation:
““In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness… This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud… I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”
The second story comes from Herman Hesse’s classic novel Siddhartha.
He looked around, as if he was seeing the world for the first time. Beautiful was the world, colourful was the world, strange and mysterious was the world! Here was blue, here was yellow, here was green, the sky and the river flowed, the forest and the mountains were rigid, all of it was beautiful, all of it was mysterious and magical, and in its midst was he, Siddhartha, the awakening one, on the path to himself.
Most of us have had transcendent encounters, although we might call these experiences by different names – born again, spirit baptized, enlightenment, self-realized. These experiences may range from an overwhelming sense of oneness to a life-changing encounter with the personal deity.
Sometimes these encounters impact our personal piety, expand our consciousness, and deepen our perspective for a lifetime.
Many have had a personal encounter of the divine or a profoundly transcendent experience. Many claim a personal experience with God. If it stays personal, it might impact their personal piety, but often it never becomes a mature piety.
How does a personal revelation or awakening impact the grand scheme of things?
The Christian scriptures explain that we are to become new creations (in Christ) and that there will be new heavens and new earth.
How is our personal newness related to the cosmic newness?
There are many stories of people’s lives transformed by encounters of the Divine in the Bible. Let me share two stories – the first is from Genesis and the second is from Revelation. These stories, separated by millennia, are connected by narrative.
If the beginning, humanity is found in a garden. Eve and Adam lived in perfect innocence; all of their needs were met; and they had intimate relationship with God.
But then they ate fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. They didn’t necessarily lose their innocence, but their innocence became shrouded in their awareness of the vice and violence and brokenness of their world.
They were exiled from the garden; and now they had to toil to meet their basic needs. And while their spiritual world was diminished due to their disconnection from God.
And yet even in this fall, they had a profound personal revelation. They realized their need for God, especially now that they knew the difference between right and wrong – good and evil.
While their new world – filled with rocky earth and thorns – seemed incredibly harsh compared to the Garden of Eden, their new world was now significantly larger.
And from their first steps out of the garden, humanity as we know it began to form. Agrarian communities and eventually cities were formed, civilizations rose and fell, new innovations and technological advances were made, wars and diseases plagued the planet, stories and the arts shaped culture, and the world came of age.
Our second story occurs at the end of the Bible – in the Revelation. This is the story of end times, but also, immediately after this apocalypse (with 4 Horsemen and dragons and hell getting cast into the fire – which really provides strong support for annihilationism and not eternal suffering) comes a new day.
In this origin story, the new creation begins in a city. A city like a garden. Where a river flows into it. And trees line it on both sides. And its leaves are for the healing of the nations.
John is the author of Revelation and also 1 John (love epistle). He has had a personal encounter with God incarnate; he’s been raptured to the heavenly realm to receive a holy vision; and in all of this it is God who is Love that has transformed and shaped his perspective.
It is this love vision that sustains him in suffering and persecution and exile. It’s this love vision that holds him while all of his dearest friends are executed for sharing their love vision with the world. It’s this love vision that strengthens his resolve to keep sharing this hope with the world – a hope that others might see one another as God sees us – as image-bearers of Love, full of light and power and beauty and purpose.
Cultivating personal revelation
So, how does this personal revelation draw us toward a cosmic revolution? How does our new reality inspire the earth and heavens to take on new forms.
(My Fellowship Hall experience)
It is my experience that this personal revelation or holy vision must be cultivated. We all experience the Infinite One in our own way because this One is Infinite. When we encounter this profound depth of overwhelming love and one-ness, we have the potential to be changed.
We are inspired to work for justice because we care about those who suffer. We become more compassionate and patient because it is this love vision manifesting in us.
In the stories of Merton and Siddharta’s transformations they saw everything as new – not as what it would be, but what it truly is.
Let us continue to cultivate this holy vision of a cosmic revolution. Let us see things new, as they truly are, so that this Love might enter into this world. Let us hold fast to this holy vision and see the infinite beauty in everyone.