Generally speaking, experience comes first. First-hand experience always has something unpredictable about it even if we knew it was coming, like a long awaited birth or death. We can consciously wait for an experience that we know is in the pipeline but when it actually happens an unpredictable change has occurred.
Experience then presents us with a challenge and often a conundrum. How does it fit in to the bigger pattern of our story? Is it really as significant as it looks?
Does it mean anything at all? We would be content with being able to predict the future. That would give us a sense of security even if it would reduce life to a computer program. But human consciousness has to rise to the level of prophecy which is about insight into the present that cuts through all the layers of time. We have to take life seriously if we are to find it joyful.
..you fail to see that it is better for one man to die for the people, than for the whole nation to be destroyed.’ He did not speak in his own person, it was as high priest that he made this prophecy.
Meaning is bigger than we are. So, when experience and meaning combine in the prophetic vision the person we are expanded. Uncomfortably but wondrously. At that point in the process people stop arguing for a moment. We stop being anxious about things and we rest for a moment in a still and watchful state we could almost call pure worship.
To be led to meaning is to be led home. Perhaps this is why Lent is built on the metaphor of a long trek to a promised land which we feel we belong to and that (more dangerously) belongs to us. It may also be why people so often say, as they reflect about the experience and meaning of meditation in their lives over a period of time, that it felt like a ‘coming home’.
Laurence Freeman OSB