The danger of all religions is that the participants will cease to pursue a personal spirituality and rather choose to become content to blindly follow the traditions and rules established by their authority figures. While this decision is encouraged and promoted by some religions, it is antithetical to the Christianity promoted by the early followers of Jesus. Building upon the legacy of Abraham, Moses, and the Jewish Prophets of old, Jesus “quite deliberately remodeled first-century Jewish expectations around himself” [Wright 2011, 117] with an emphasis on relationship with the Living Creator. No longer were the people of God to be called “servants,” rather they would be “friends” of the Creator King [Jn 15:15, NIV].
Writing near the end of his life, the Apostle John pens a letter to the second and third generations of Jesus followers reminding them of their status change.
“From the very first day, we were there, taking it all in—we heard it with our own ears, saw it with our own eyes, verified it with our own hands. The Word of Life appeared right before our eyes; we saw it happen! And now we’re telling you in most sober prose that what we witnessed was, incredibly, this: The infinite Life of God himself took shape before us.
“We saw it, we heard it, and now we’re telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you to enjoy this, too. Your joy will double our joy!” [1 Jn 1:1-4, The Message]
Through the incarnation, the Creator King revealed his desire to walk among his people in a very personal way that goes beyond anything ever known in the ancient world. No longer was the Creator of Heaven and Earth a distant deity removed from the daily lives of his people. Rather he is a deity who is actively seeking an intimate ongoing personal relationship with each individual, adopting us as sons and daughters [Ga 3:26-4:7] and placing his Spirit into our hearts as a “deposit guaranteeing our inheritance” [Ep 1:14, NIV].
While Christianity has for the most part emphasized the need for personal salvation, the “experiential awareness of God’s presence that we see reflected in the New Testament has certainly not always characterized Christian life since” [Thiessen 2015, 1]. However there have always been those within the Christian community who have promoted such an experiential spirituality. This paper will seek draw out examples of experiential spirituality being promoted within Christianity over the past five hundred years (16th to 21st century). The goal of reviewing these examples is to remind readers of the value of experiential spirituality while introducing them to eleven travel guides who have walked the path before them.
To be continued….
Thiessen, Walter. 2015. Inner Healing Prayer. Module notes, St. Stephen’s University, St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada.
Wright, N.T. 2011. Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, And Why He Matters. New York: HaperOne.