Recently ninety-year-old William Shatner, star of the original Star Trek series, had his first experience in space. He traveled with Blue Origin, the space travel system created by Jeff Bezos founder of Amazon. Traveling through the atmosphere into the "vast darkness" left Shatner with a profound experience he struggled to put into words. He said, "I hope I never recover from this. I hope that I can maintain what I feel now. I don't want to lose it. It's so much larger than me and life. And it hasn't got anything to do with the little green men. It has nothing to do with that. It has to do with the enormity and the quickness and the suddenness of life and death and the...Oh, my God."
I would say Mr. Shatner had a spiritual experience. He could just as well be describing an authentic encounter with God. Such an encounter brings us into the mystery of life and death. We feel a sense of smallness about our lives and at the same time a grandeur for what our lives can stand for. Most of all we feel a hope we don't want to lose.
Such an experience makes us want to say with Shatner, "Everyone in the world needs this...it's unbelievable!"
Blaise Pascal was a brilliant mathematician, physicist, and philosopher. His intellect crowded out the possibility of God, until he had his own outer space experience. No one can say what exactly it was. People called “Pascal’s wager.” He experienced God in a way he couldn’t prove, yet knew it was real. He wagered his life on this experience.
When he died he was wearing an old, ragged coat. Sewn into the sleeve was a piece of paper that described his spiritual experience. It said:
In the year of the Lord 1654 Monday, November 23 From about half-past ten in the evening until half-past twelve.
God of Abraham, God if Isaac, God of Jacob
Not of philosophers nor of the scholars.
Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy, Peace.
God of Jesus Christ,
My God and thy God.
“Thy God shall be my God.”
Forgetfulness of the world and of everything, except God.
He is to be found only by the ways taught in the Gospel.
Greatness of the soul of man.
“Righteous Father, the world hath not know thee,
but I have know thee.”
Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.
I have fallen away: I have fled from Him,
denied Him, crucified him.
May I not fall away forever.
We keep hold of him only by the ways taught in the Gospel.
Renunciation, total and sweet.
Total submission to Jesus Christ and to my director.
Eternally in joy for a day’s exercise on earth.
I will not forget Thy word. Amen.
I hope in this coming season of church life — stewardship, Thanksgiving, Advent — that we get in touch again with our own Pascal-Shatner experiences, truths of God we hope we never recover from. You can also see sermons from this series here.