Here’s the thing about a spiritual experience. It feels real as can be when it’s happening. But afterwards, when you think about it, you wonder if you’re crazy.
I woke last night at 2 am.
This actually happens to me lots of nights – waking well before dawn — and mostly it feels related to having many things on my mind. I am 100% grateful for work that feels meaningful and 80% grateful for the mix of excitement-generosity-confidence-and-gluttony in me that says yes to so many delicious opportunities. But the consequence is: I spend most days feeling like I’ve got about six term papers due and most nights “bing”-ing on between 2 and 3. (For the record, I would prefer to get another two or three hours sleep, but all in all I get by and feel good enough.)
I think of these night-time wakings as being caused by me — my choices, my stress, my cortisol, my character strategies – and what happened last night may have been as me-related as any. But last night, maybe, was different.
Last night when I awoke, it was with an energy in my chest that did not feel like it was mine. It’s difficult to give words to what it was – there was terror, rage, grief, and something else I could not recognize – but it felt like I was receiving it and experiencing it on behalf of someone else, possibly on behalf of many someone elses.
At first I wanted to refuse it and push it out, but gradually something in me said yes and allowed it. It was not an easy yes-and-allow. There was some struggle in it, but the struggle did not make whatever it was, or whoever it was, feel unwelcome. After a bit – I have no idea how long this was – I was able to align with it and give it my support, and then the feeling intensified. Again, whatever it was did not declare itself with words – mostly it was a strong sensation in my chest area – but I had some awareness that it involved great suffering, that it needed holding, containing, maybe even some detoxification, and that for this bit of time, I could be its kidney, or liver, or whatever I was for it.
This continued for a while more. It got stronger. I was participating in it to some degree – there was a bit of my own terror-rage-grief-and-something-else in with it – but more than that, I was providing space for it and bearing witness to it. It crested, and I could tell this was as strong as it would get. Perhaps it knew exactly how much I could bear. A bit longer and it began to lessen, gradually but surely, and eventually it was gone.
In the midst of this experience, at some point, I remembered that it was Maundy Thursday, the night before Crucifixion Friday — the night of the Last Supper, of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, sweating blood and wrestling with would he or wouldn’t he, and then being arrested, abused by the police, put to trial, and sentenced to death – all this between sundown Thursday and sunrise Friday.
It unnerved me a bit for the experience I was having to be connected with the experience of Jesus – I think this was part of my struggle to say yes – but at some point it comforted me and encouraged me to consider that maybe Jesus was helping, that maybe thousands of Jesuses, maybe tens of thousands, were helping hold this anguish.
I assume there are people reading this who aren’t Christian and won’t connect with this last part, and people reading who are Christian and won’t agree with it, but I’m just telling you, as best I can, what happened.
And I might be crazy.
Or it might be that any of us, at any moment, can be called into service of the great mystery by which burdens are borne, signs and groans are felt, and suffering finds its way to the heart of healing.