Recently I listened to Richard Rohr talk in a webinar about the three wheels of the spiritual “tricycle”: Experience, Scripture, and Tradition (which he discusses in his book The Universal Christ). He spoke of how, historically, Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches focused on Tradition, while most (though not all!) Protestant churches focused on Scripture. Both downplayed Experience because—and these are my words—leaders couldn’t control it or validate it. I know I was raised believing that I shouldn’t trust my own spiritual experience—and that had serious consequences for my ability to trust myself in many areas of my life.
Yesterday was Pentecost (recounted in Acts 2:1–42), which was originally the Jewish grain harvest festival of Shavuot. It is one of three annual pilgrimage festivals (the others being Passover and Sukkot), which are the traditional times when Jews travel to Jerusalem. For Christians, this explains why there were so many people, speaking so many languages, in Jerusalem at the time. For Christians, Pentecost matters because it is the day when the Holy Spirit descended upon the followers of Jesus. That day, they began to respond to the Spirit’s movement in their lives and to trust their inner experience of that Spirit.
Fortunately for me and for the church, we have entered a season in history when, in at least some facets of Christianity, we are being invited to listen for and trust our inner experiences. (That really started about a century ago with the emergence of the Pentecostal Movement.) We recognize that the Holy Spirit dwells within us and guides us through experiencing the holy in our lives. I am grateful for those faithful mentors and guides who have encouraged me to listen for the wisdom of my inner voice and learn to trust it—and sometimes it’s been challenging.
One of the key truths about a tricycle is that we won’t get very far if we don’t have all three wheels on the ground. It’s useful for each of us to reflect on how we keep a good balance on all three wheels. For me, tradition brings me the language, symbols, art, and memories that enrich my faith journey. My worship is enriched by the hymns I sing, the candles I light, and the wise words I read from my ancestors in the faith. Delving deeply into scripture has helped it come alive for me and revealed new facets of meaning, as I have shared in my Psalm Flights and my imaginative storytelling about Jesus through the Eyes of Others.
I share all this because, as I was reflecting on what I heard in that recent webinar, I realized that my experience of Experience is changing again. I’m moving from focusing on my personal experience to recognizing that there are so many different experiences of God about which I know nothing. For example, this season of antiracism study is revealing all sorts of experiences that differ radically from my own. Yet God embraces them all—and for me to ride the tricycle, I need to do the same.
Richard Rohr had some wisdom to share in terms of validating and trusting experience. He listed a number of resources that we have available to help us discern, validate, and critique our Experience, such as spiritual guidance, the Enneagram, and teachers like Karl Jung. He said, “We are living in a blessed time with so many tools to regulate and balance our experience—if we’re willing to use them.”
What is your history with each wheel on the tricycle? How has your understanding of or trust in these three elements changed? How well-balanced is your tricycle at this point in your life?
Great question… I had to throw out my tradition to become more whole. It made for a wobbly ride in my 30s! The primary reason I discarded my tradition is that it was at deep odds with my experience/reality. Today I lean much more into trusting my experience/spirit. I continue to love the Gospel. I continue to take my tradition with a grain of salt while integrating (on a good day) how it has shaped me. Heretic that I am, I do wonder if tradition is even necessary.
Thanks, Damien…and thanks for your honest and thoughtful response. I hear you about the tradition…and yet tradition did create the scripture which inspires us and gives us windows into understanding the experiences that so deeply move us. I also wonder if we need to broaden “tradition” to include the history of others’ experiences, like the mystics. That would help….
Blessings on your journey!