For me, this kind of recognition feels more like being reminded of something I already knew, having that knowledge brought to the level of conscious thought. My most recent experience of this was while reading Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O'Donohue. One reviewer dismisses it as "Vague New-Age Schlock." I tend to agree more with the reviewer who called it "like milk and honey for the soul." When I read it, something inside me said, "I've been parched, and this is what I wanted."
I value and respect what can be learned and proven in a lab, but I don't see any reason to set aside other ways of learning. There are people who have the opinion, "If you can't prove it in a lab, it isn't real/doesn't count." I'm more of the opinion, "If you can't prove it in a lab, you shouldn't presume it has implications for the world at large, and quite possibly not for anyone other than yourself."
So, after a time of honestly thinking that there really was not any god, I've reopened myself up to the possibility that there could be. Dismiss me as irrational if you wish. I'm fine with that. If you've met me or read much of my writing, you can deduce that I'm a fairly lucid person. Here are a three sparks of recognition that are seeds that make me say, Yeah, maybe.
First seed, something Jennifer Fulwiler wrote. A friend posted a link to Fulwiler's blog on Facebook shortly after I had started this blog as a staunch, anti-religious atheist. She was raised as an atheist, and happily so, as she describes it, and ended up converting to Catholicism in her 20s. When I read that, I thought, What?! A lifelong atheist who became a Catholic? That's possible?! And I confess, I hated her blog when I first came across it. I glanced through her Most Popular sidebar, and my reaction at the time was, What's wrong with this woman?! And I'm not saying I agree with her on everything these days, but I've come to like a lot of her ideas, and especially to feel that spark of recognition in what she writes about God.
Her post "Suppressing the Soul" really resonated with me. She writes about visiting a cathedral in Mexico City while on vacation with her family as a teenager and being struck with awe at the place.
As with other times in my life I’d experienced great awe and wonder, something seemed horribly amiss. I had to consciously remind myself not to get too wrapped up in these feelings I was experiencing since, after all, they were nothing more than chemical reactions in my brain. I kept wanting to place more meaning on them than that, but would admonish myself not to be silly. Any sort of beauty or importance I ascribed to places like this were a product only of some neurons firing in my head, and nothing more.------
My soul was crying out to be heard, but I suppressed it every time. “Where’s the proof?” I’d think. “Science has not shown that there is something mysterious about this cathedral or something other than evolved chemical reactions driving my feelings of love for my family,” I’d insist, blowing it all off as wishful superstitious thinking.She writes that one of the things that kept her going when she wanted to give up on her spiritual journey was "the relief that hit me like a waterfall when I finally acknowledged my soul."
I can't say I believe in the soul in anything other than a metaphorical sense, and yet I recognize what she's saying. I've had those same awestruck moments, and I can believe that we evolved to feel those things (though I'm puzzled as to what the evolutionarily advantageous explanation would be) and that it's all neurons and chemicals, but I also think there's something more to it than that. I can't tell you why other than that it feels like that should be true.
Which brings me to the second seed. A poem by Mary Oliver entitled "Terns." Follow this link to read the full poem (it's also found in her New and Selected Poems, Vol. 2). My favorite lines are "Not through the weaponry of reason" and "What else could beauty be for?"
Third seed. A quote from Jane Goodall. Love this woman. In the introduction to her memoir Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey she writes about visiting the cathedral of Notre Dame, shortly after she lost her husband to cancer and was going through a crisis of faith herself. The sound of an organ playing Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor filled the space:
That moment, a suddenly captured moment of eternity, was perhaps the closest I have ever come to experiencing ecstasy, the ecstasy of the mystic. How could I believe it was the chance gyrations of bits of primeval dust that had led up to that moment in time--the cathedral soaring to the sky; the collective inspiration and faith of those who caused it to be built; the advent of Bach himself; the brain, his brain, that translated truth into music; and the mind that could as mine did then, comprehend the whole inexorable progress of evolution? Since I cannot believe that this was the result of chance, I had to admit anti-chance. And so I must believe in a guiding power in the universe--in other words, I must believe in God.
Related Post: Jane Goodall on the Daily Show