Thursday, September 3, 2009

Natural vs. Supernatural

From Thomas Merton’s “The Inner Experience”:

“Our awareness of our inner self can at least theoretically be the fruit of natural and psychological purification. Our awareness of God is a super-natural participation in the light by which he reveals himself interiorly as dwelling in our inmost self.”

This thought is interesting and perplexing to me in the way that he seems to differentiate between the ‘natural’ or (it seems to me) ‘not God’, and the ‘super-natural’ or (it seems to me) God. In other words as if the ‘natural’ things have nothing to do with God’s involvement.

And he continues with:

“Hence the Christian mystical experience is not only an awareness of the inner self, but also, by a super-natural intensification of faith, it is an experiential grasp of God as present within our inner self.”

I have a personal, intuitive understanding of this second part. God is here, I cannot necessarily explain the experience but I know it and the knowing is not with my head, or rather I should say not just with my head.

Here’s the thing. This awareness, this knowing, this experience can come, and I might even venture to say usually comes in ways that we define as completely natural. The catalyst for awareness arrives in the form of natural occurrences that we often overlook, mostly because we are conditioned by this life to overlook them as pertinent to our spiritual development.

Take for example a period of depression, or a psychotic episode, a serious physical illness, a life-threatening accident, you pick it. All what we would consider perfectly natural occurrences. Let us look at depression. That a clinical diagnosis can be made is both perfectly understandable and acceptable and completely irrelevant at the same time. The clinical diagnosis – the ‘natural’ explanation, does not cancel out the spiritual significance of the event. I read something recently about a woman who experienced, for the first time ever in her life a severe psychotic episode. She understood it as a catalyst for spiritual awareness. The doctors and psychiatric people who were treating her, as well as the author of the article seemed to scoff at that idea, treating it as nothing more than a ‘natural’, perfectly scientific, perfectly organic case of psychosis. One can only assume that they believe that God has nothing to do with psychosis, or depression or any other human condition that can be diagnosed clinically. But you see she has a completely different perspective than they do because she knows the person she is after in comparison to the person she was before. She knows what she knows now as opposed to what she didn’t know before. She is aware of the differences in her thought patterns after as being vastly different from her thought patterns before.

We have fallen into this misguided belief that if it comes from God that it must be in terms of our definition of supernatural. That it must come in the form of the parting of the Red Sea or of some crazy vision of heaven and hell or angels or a sudden flash of thunder and lightning followed by an audible voice from the heavens. In other words it must come in the form of something that we cannot explain in our known, scientific terms.

We do not understand that mostly God works within the laws of the universe. We do not understand that he mostly works within the guidelines set forth by him and that he works quietly and slowly, behind the scenes and below the surface.


  1. M. Scott Peck talks a bit about mental illness as a symptom of spiritual illness in his book, "Further Along the Road Less Traveled" and I found it intriguing. Great post. Thanks for the read!

  2. I cannot see that mental 'illness' (perhaps a post on why I put that word in quotation marks is in the offing) could possibly be anything else BUT a symptom of spiritual illness or perhaps spiritual waywardness would be more appropriate. Which is to say that the more I read about the human psyche the more I become convinced that it is our mode of living in the external world, or rather I should say our attempts (and struggle) to live within the rules and regulations of the external world that takes us very far off our own right path. And I cannot help but think that mental illness and or neurosis is a manifestation of just how far off that path we are sometimes.

  3. I agree.
    Just popped back over, after leaving a longish comment on my site about your post and your comments about my posts(?).
    I think you say it beautifully. One of my pet peeves is that people want 'miracles' to justify belief in God. If this universe we live in is not miracle enough, then why would raising Lazarus push someone into faith? The cartesian dichotomy of mind/spirit vs matter makes little sense to me. Why would there be any such separation? Only a picture of 'God' as a simplified human, living outside the universe, would require such a separation. If 'God' is truly universal, then it seems 'God' should be seamlessly integrated into our cosmos, speaking to us from every molecule, every clock tick, every pulse of blood.

  4. Not much I can add to that Will. I think the old adage "we cannot see the forest for the trees" applies. Our 'secular' world conditions us so thorougly NOT to see God that we look right past him as he is standing right in front of our eyes.