Spiritual gifts vs growth

What is this light? It could be a help to keep you on the right path, or a trial that could pull you off the path and into chasing your own tail.

This is something I thought was pretty obvious, but I can see that in a subtle way it can be misunderstood, perhaps even two ways. So I thought I should bring it up. I may as well use an example from my own life, since I am not such an amazing master that I should point at others and tell you what they should do.

I was born in 1958 and grew up in a small farming village on the west coast of Norway, back before Norway became one of the very richest and most advanced nations in the world. We had no television, and the government had a monopoly on broadcasting. It is not surprising that I grew up without knowing quite what meditation was. Even the church was state-owned, back then and there.

When I was still in my teens, I joined an old-fashioned Christian church. (Not the state-owned one – it did in fact avoid membership lists as a blasphemy.) I began to pray earnestly to God. After a while, I decided that it would be impolite to just rattle off my wish list and hang up, so at the end of my prayer, I would simply wait respectfully for God in case He wanted to say something to me as well. He did not, at least in any literal sense, which may be just as well.  But in that silence I could sense something, like an aura, which seemed to come from a direction at right angles to all of our three dimensions. Turning my attention that way, in my mind of course, I received peace and energy and clarity. What happened was that I discovered meditation, untaught by any human soul. You may say that I learned meditation from God.  (Although I only learned the name later.)

Now I could think that I must be some Very Important Person in the cosmic scale of things, to discover something as fundamental as meditation without being taught by mortals. In a manner of speaking, I could be said to be equal to whoever first brought meditation to our Earth and founded the first mystic religion. It is possible to see it in that way. But it is a pretty stupid thing to think.

What happened then  was that I received a gift. A very precious gift for sure, but in itself it did not make me a better person. It had the potential to transform me, sure, but that was not yet happening, or at least not from that reason. It is a fairly slow process, meditation, at least for most of us. And despite learning meditation directly from Heaven, I was very much a “most of us” in terms of progress.

I have also experienced the bliss of religious ecstasy that is, as they say, better than sex. Admittedly I am not that much of an expert on sex, but it certainly was more blissful than anything I had experienced, awake or asleep. The Hindus, or at least some of them, have a saying about samadhi – their religious ecstasy – that “when you have experienced this, you know there is nothing greater to experience”. That was how I felt at the time, although I am not sure whether I was right. I have in fact never experienced anything greater, emotionally speaking.

Even that, however, did not make me into a saint. I had and still have much the same temptations. Well, some of them gradually change over time, of course, but none of these things made me into the awesome spiritual person who one would expect to have such experiences. They were gifts. Growth is something else again.  Some people get more gifts as they grow. Actually, I think that is pretty common. But sometimes gifts come at the beginning, or in the middle, and sometimes they even come and go again. It varies depending on the gift and the way life was meant to be for each of us.

So if you see great lights, hear voices from Heaven, leave your body, experience five minutes lasting for five hours or the other way around,  if you are healed from serious illness or even heal others, these things are not in and of themselves important for your spiritual growth. If you are obsessed with yourself and don’t live a life of helping other people, there is no point in any of these. Or as a better man has said: “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” (St Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13. Good stuff all around.)

It is a common mistake when we experience something super, that we want to go back and have it again. This is not unique either. When Jesus was illuminated on the mountain with Moses and Elijah, his disciples wanted to build a cabin there so they could just remain in that cool place. Instead, Jesus went off to Jerusalem and was crucified.

So the thing is, having those cool experiences may be something that is given to weak-hearted people so they don’t give up entirely. Or it could be something that is given to Very Important Persons so that they can help others, I suppose. But they are not the purpose of life, certainly not of spiritual life. If you don’t really understand much and you never hear anyone at the other end when you pray, but you give love to others without asking for anything in return, you have advanced far beyond one who sees great lights and feels electric currents surge through the body, and then keeps chasing that experience for the rest of his life.

So that’s the way it is, I believe. The voice in my heart seems to agree, but you know I am not so transparent that I could not fool myself. But when the holy scriptures from far away and long ago also agree, I feel pretty safe to post this, that it won’t lead you astray. Hopefully neither will the cool spiritual experiences, if you ever have those.

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