Experiences of God?—Fr. Charles Allen

Here are some examples of how people have spoken of their experience of God in similar terms through the ages, though they don't all say exactly the same thing. I've also included Sam Harris's account of meditation, because he sounds a lot like Paul Tillich talking about faith, except that Harris despises faith and the very idea of God. That's why the above heading has a question mark. It's food for thought.

God is not far from each one of us, for in God we live and move and have our being.—St. Paul (c. 5-c. 67), Acts 17:27-28.

With you as my guide I entered into my innermost citadel,… and with my soul's eye, such as it was, saw above that same eye of my soul the immutable light higher than my mind – not the light of every day, but a different thing, utterly different from all our kinds of light... When I first came to know you, you raised me up to make me see that what I saw is Being, and that I who saw am not yet Being. And you gave a shock to the weakness of my sight by the strong radiance of your rays, and I trembled with love and awe. And I found myself far from you in the region of dissimilarity, and heard as it were your voice from on high: "I am the food of the fully grown; grow and you will feed on me. And you will not change me into you like the food your flesh eats, but you will be changed into me." ... And you cried from far away: "Now, I am who I am." I heard in the way one hears within the heart, and all doubt left me.—St. Augustine (354-430), Confessions 7.10.16

Strange, then, is the blindness of an experience which does not consider that which it sees first and without which it can know nothing. The eye, concentrating on various differences of color, does not see the very light by which it sees other things; and if it does see this light, it does not advert to it. In the same way, the eye of experience, concentrating on particular and universal being, does not advert to Being Itself, which is beyond every genus [i.e., transcendental], even though it comes to our experience first and through it we know other things … Thus our experience, accustomed to the darkness of beings and the images of the things of sense, when it glimpses the light of Being Itself, seems to itself to see nothing. It does not realize that this very darkness is the supreme illumination of our mind, just as when the eye sees pure light, it seems to itself to see nothing.— St. Bonaventure (1217-1274), The Soul's Journey into God 5.4. (Bonaventure actually uses “intellect” and “mind” instead of “experience” here. But in medieval thought intellect and mind were ways of experiencing.)

Religion is "to be one with the infinite in the midst of the finite and to be eternal in a moment"—Friedrich Schleiermacher, "the Father of Modern Theology," in On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers (Cambridge: Cambridge University press, 1988 [1799]), p. 140

The whole notion of our massive experience conceived as a reaction to clearly envisaged to details is fallacious. The relationship should be inverted. The details are a reaction to the totality. ... They are interpretive and not originative. What is original is the vague totality... The primitive stage of discrimination… is the vague grasp of reality, dissecting it into a threefold scheme, namely, "The Whole," "That Other," and "This-My-Self." ... This is primarily a dim division.… There is the vague sense of many which are one; and of one which includes the many. ... There is the feeling of the ego, the others, the totality. This is the vague, basic presentation of the differentiation of existence... We are, each of us, one among others; and all of us are embraced in the unity of the whole. ... The unity of a transcendent universe, and the multiplicity of realized actualities, both enter into our experience by [a] sense of deity... We owe to the sense of deity the obviousness of the many actualities of the world, and the obviousness of the unity of the world.—Alfred North Whitehead, Modes of Thought (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1968 [1938]), pp. 109-110, 102.

[In our experience of God,] God can never be object without being at the same time subject. ... The same experience expressed in abstract language is the disappearance of the ordinary subject-object scheme in the experience of the ultimate, the unconditional. In the act of faith that which is the source of this act is present beyond the cleavage of subject and object. It is present as both and beyond both.—Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith (New York: HarperCollins, 2001 [1957]), pp. 12-13.

All talk about God always only points to ... an experience in which the one whom we call “God” encounters us … as the absolute and the immeasurable, as the term of our transcendence which cannot really be incorporated into any system of coordinates.— Karl Rahner, Foundations of Christian Faith, trans. by William V. Dych (New York: Seabury Press, 1978), p. 21.

[In meditation] our sense of "self"—of subject/object dualism in perception and cognition—can be made to vanish, while consciousness remains vividly aware of the continuum of experience.—Sam Harris, The End of Faith (New York: W. W. Norton, 2004) p. 217.