This week, Did You Know is excerpted from a South Bend History professor’s latest book, Changed by Grace: If we look at V.C. Kitchen’s book, I was a Pagan, which is about his life-changing experience, we can note how similar the language is, and how (just like Plato, St. Augustine and Jonathan Edwards) he describes it as having all things illumined by a divine light from outside the realm of space and time and ordinary sense objects: I, excepting for my one brief baptismal glow, had never had a real religious experience in my life. And yet as I soon found, I had to have a religious experience before the veil lifted from my eyes and allowed me to see the supra-sensible light of the spiritual domain. I had, in other words, actually to become God-conscious before I could see what lay behind my previous failure to do so. I had to gain supernatural insight before I could see the true nature of my own and other men’s natural mistakes.
The Oxford Group, however, had a most natural way of introducing one to the supernatural and, in their skillful hands; God’s miracle of changing lives seemed no more unnatural than the many natural or physical phenomena we are accustomed to observe. With this change-but not before-could I see the reason for my former failures? It was if I had stepped all at once from the ordinary world of three dimensions into a fourth dimensional sphere.
It is difficult to describe such matters to those who have not yet gained spiritual insight, just as it would be difficult to explain colors to a blind man. Moral blindness is much the same thing; it is a blindness that clears away only when you become sensitive to the light of the spiritual realm. In ordinary terms, therefore, I can only say that I had been unable to see spiritual light because I stood in my own way. I had, as you remember, suspected that there might be some supra-sensible kind of spiritual light, just as there were ultraviolet rays of sunlight and invisible beams of knowledge which flow into our minds. I found that this was so and found, also as I suspected, that the coarseness of my own nature, to a degree, obscured this spiritual light which made me unable to “see” it.
Powerful as is this light of God, man’s own shadow will blot it out of consciousness. I had buried my nose so deeply in my own coat collar and was so eminently conscious of my own desires in life that I could not, at the same time, be conscious of anything else.
When later I occupied my mind with the troubles of the world, these did not by any means, squeeze out my self-absorption. They simply added to absorption as a whole-absorption away from God. A burning candle is not easily seen in a room already illuminated by a self-centered and enlarged ego. And God cannot be heard in a mind busy with other and coarser self-seeking matters.
The Oxford Group had rediscovered and revitalized the eighteenth-century evangelical conversion experience, and A.A. people discovered that when they did the simple “daily actions” they were asked to do. They too experienced the same things. It required a new kind of language however to explain what had originally been taught by the evangelicals of two centuries earlier.
It is doubtful that Bill Wilson and his little band of recovering alcoholics in the 1930s could have understood what was being said had they turned to the writings of Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley from the 1930s.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, the revivalist tradition had been degraded by the activities of too many publicity-hungry “hot gospelers” who were ranting, raving and insisting on a faith based mainly on a belief in the literal inerrancy of the Bible, and using psychological manipulation to produce temporary emotional responses, but no real internal change in character defects.
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