In Western Christianity, especially in Protestantism, there has been an emphasis put on a “born again experience,” that defining and often exhilarating experience when one feels touched by the Spirit or has found Jesus. In the experience one may feel deeply loved, and temporarily released from fear, guilt or shame. It is often the topic of many testimonials at church gatherings. Retelling the experience also rekindles dwindling religious fervor. Therefore promoting this experience is often the goal for many preachers and evangelists: do all one can so that the new believers will have this experience and the old believers all feel rejuvenated in their faith.
Perhaps this stress on a peak experience comes from St. Paul and his conversion, providing a religious model that has gotten a lot of miles and is celebrated whenever it happens; and rightly so. This initial conversion experience is an important component of religious and spiritual development.
The problem arises when the honeymoon of this Christian experience wanes in the rough and tumble of real life, and the believer then substitutes the increasingly barren, hard path for a variety of panaceas like the secure comfort in joylessly adhering to religious rules, fake enthusiastic religiosity or active participation in the enjoyable social activities of a church.
However, religious and spiritual maturity involves two aspects and the barren, hard path is one of them. Just as a good marriage has its honeymoon experience and the long years often marked by fidelity and mutual support in times of dryness, sickness and financial difficulties, the truly spiritual religious life also has the same. Genuine religious faith based on a deep spirituality has learned to thrive in the hard times. However, how this awareness has been learned and what has been learned is often not talked about in mainstream Christian religions, yet this is the understanding that gives life to genuine religion.
As John Welwood says in his book, Toward a Psychology of Awakening, we need the realization experience that starts us on our religious journey, yet we also need to actualize the experience in the very fabric of our being through daily practices and life disciplines like prayer, dreamwork, meditation and a willingness to look at psychological issues which cause us to stumble. This is what makes the religious life real and alive. Otherwise, we are just trying to live off of a high by bypassing the nitty-gritty of life.