In the early 1960s, Jesuit Karl Rahner (1904-1984) stated that if Western Christianity did not rediscover its mystical foundations, we might as well close the doors of the churches because we had lost the primary reason for our existence. Now don’t let the word “mystic” scare you. It simply means one who has moved from mere belief systems or belonging systems to actual inner experience. All spiritual traditions at their mature levels agree that such a movement is possible, desirable, and even available to everyone.
Until someone has had some level of inner religious experience, there is no point in asking them to follow the ethical ideals of Jesus or to really understand Christian doctrines beyond the formulaic level. In fact, moral mandates and doctrinal affirmations only become the source of deeper anxiety and more contentiousness! And then that very anxiety will usually take the form of denial, pretension, and projection of our evil elsewhere.
You quite simply don’t have the power to obey the law or follow any ideal—such as loving others, forgiving enemies, nonviolence, or humble use of power—except in and through union with God. Nor do doctrines like the Trinity, the Real Presence, salvation, or the mystery of Incarnation have any meaning that actually changes your life. They are merely books on shelves. Without some inner experience of the Divine, what Bill Wilson of Alcoholics Anonymous called “a vital spiritual experience,” nothing authentically new or life-giving happens.