There are times when I am writing about spiritual work in public, like here, or in private, in my journals, that I am troubled by what value it has. It seems like there is so much work that goes into the discussion and some of it is so peculiar, that it cannot have any real purpose outside of occupying my thoughts. The speculations about the coil of life, or the giants, or the daemons, can all sound very abstract, especially after the fact. They do have a practical value, of course, in directing my thoughts and actions during spiritual work and in laying the groundwork for talking to others about it, but it seems like that practical value does not quite merit the effort of contemplation that goes into them.
Please indulge me as I wax philosophical. If we define religious experience as experience of the spiritual plane, then it makes sense to explore it on its own terms. While our attitudes, expectations, and behaviors shape how we approach it, there is something distinctive to it that resists our expectations. That resistance demands some sort of response such that the understanding we develop about the spiritual world and how we behave toward it tell us something both about ourselves (individually and socially) and the spiritual world. Because the spiritual world isn’t just any way we want, but has its own substance, we can discern its reality ‘beneath’ the descriptions and rites. This makes it both possible and reasonable to compare one form of religious expression with another. The way in which we make that comparison, though, needs to keep those variables in mind and try to make sense of the different forms of religious expression ecologically rather than getting carried away with superficial similarities.
[For those who are fans of technical philosophical vocabulary, we might call this strategy critical, phenomenological, and pragmatic. If you don’t care about those terms, don’t worry. You don’t have to be connosieur to enjoy the wine.]