The book I quoted in my last post—When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God by T. M. Luhrmann—was recently featured in the New York Times Review of Books. Molly Worthen wrote that the book is, “the most insightful study of evangelical religion in many years.”
Worthen comments on two themes that stood out to me when I read it. These seminal and correlated ideas are hallmarks of the evangelical psyche: that God wants to be our intimate friend—BFF in text lingo—and that prayer is an essential mental discipline to enjoying this friendship:
As Luhrmann writes, “God wants to be your friend; you develop that relationship through prayer; prayer is hard work and requires effort and training; and when you develop that relationship, God will answer back, through thoughts and mental images he places in your mind, and through sensations he causes in your body.”
I resonate with this mindset because I shared and taught it for decades. I know the constant effort it takes to develop and maintain this spiritual perspective.
Though everyone has the ability “to treat what the mind imagines as more real than the world one knows,” honing this skill requires practice. Luhrmann compares the “sophisticated expertise” required to hear God’s voice to the training that a sonogram technician needs in order to distinguish the outline of a fetus from a fuzzy black-and-white haze: it is a matter of “training perception.”
This training works. (It worked for me for years.) Luhrmann notes that “Both history and ethnography suggest that the Christian cultivation of the inner senses has real consequences for those who use it.” It produces peace, purpose and a coherent way of seeing the world. But what happens when perception and experience are seriously out of sync over an extended period?
I’ll tell you what happened to me in a future post.