Discerning Religious Experience

How do I know I had a “real” religious experience, that what I experienced was not the product of my imagination? How do I know what I think came from God really did come from God?

Those are the questions we explored yesterday at a Mid-Day Reflection at UST School of Law on the subject of discerning religious experience. My talk proceeded from two assumptions. First, that all experience has a religious dimension. Second, that all religious experience needs to be discerned, because people can be deceived.

I frist talked a little about St. Ignatius’ teaching about consolation and desolation and then identified some questions that help us to discern religious experience. I shared with the participants Thomas Merton’s description of one of his foundational religious experiences as a vehicle for talking more concretely about some tell-tale characteristic of an experience of God. We had some dialogue following that, after which I invited participants to reflect on their own religious experiences. We then had some sharing of those experiences.

You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. The podcast runs for 38:30. (It may be hard to hear the participants’ comments during our discussion stemming from Merton’s experience; hopefully my comments/replies bring enough clarity to their comments.)

I’ll be leaving in a few hours for the center where I’ll be offering a weekend retreat for undergraduates on Developing the Beatitudes in Our Lives. I ask you to keep me and the retreatants in your prayers.