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Signposts: Daily Devotions

Wednesday, October 14

I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God's mystery, that is, Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
—Colossians 2:2-3

The psychologist Abraham Maslow noticed that most of the energy of study in his field was centered around treating mental and emotional illness—figuring out what makes us psychologically ill. He decided to ask the question the other way—What is it that makes us psychologically healthy?

Looking at psychology from this perspective, he discovered that people with outstanding creativity, inner strength and resilience have one characteristic in common: mystical experiences. He described a mystical experience as "a sense of the sacred glimpsed in and through the particular instance" of the present moment.

Maslow found that for wider acceptance he had to change his language to sound less religious, and so we have the now familiar concept of the "peak experience." A peak experience is one in which you are wide awake, fully alert, fully alive, living without fear.

It is the experience that the universe is of one piece and you are part of it. In a peak experience, conflicts and polarities seem to be transcended by a deep sense of belonging. It is described as having the qualities of truth, goodness, beauty, integrity, peace, simplicity. (Thanks to David Stendl-Rast for some of this)

I have a friend who swims during his lunch hour. Sometimes the rhythm of his breathing, the motion of his arm moving past his ear, the union of water and body puts him into a place where time disappears, where he is fully present in the water, with the breathing, through the alternating push and pull of the swim. He is one with all that is present. It is invigorating, he tells me.

I remember a tennis game when I could see the ball with such clarity that I knew where it was going before it left my partner's racket, and my whole body moved instinctively toward it with such fluid harmony that it seemed as though the racquet hit the ball without my conscious intervention.

Such aliveness can happen anywhere, any time. God is everywhere. Peak experiences, mystical experiences happen. Focused on a book, singing a hymn, rocking a child, driving a car, adding a column of numbers, greeting a customer, eating a meal, organizing a committee, looking at a bug. Suddenly we are alive, alert.

It's like a fish suddenly seeing and knowing water.

Open our eyes and hearts, O God, to see the wonder of your creation, that we may be one with all that is, in Christ and through your Holy Spirit present, now and forever. Amen.

These Signposts were originally published on in 2005.