Taking Your Spiritual Temperature

One of the most important conceptual tools of Sacred Ecstatics is what we call a spiritual thermometer. It enables you to gauge the intensity of mystical experience. When you are spiritually on fire you are shaking with ecstasy, shouting in amazement, and singing from the depths of your being. Inside the most extreme heat, your heart is fully open and the pulse of creation delivers a sacred, electric vibration that fills you from head to toe. This direct encounter with the “infinite fire of love” fills you with extreme joy and sets your soul ablaze. In the words of St. John of the Cross:

This flame the soul feels within it, not only as a fire that has consumed and transformed it in sweet love, but also as a fire which burns within it and sends out flame . . . and that flame bathes the soul in glory and refreshes it with the temper of Divine life.

And since God is an infinite fire of love, when therefore He is pleased to touch the soul with some severity, the heat of the soul rises to such a degree that the soul believes that it is being burned with a heat greater than any other in the world . . . And it is a wondrous thing, worthy to be related, that, though this fire of God is so vehement and so consuming that it would consume a thousand worlds more easily than natural fire consumes a straw of flax, it consumes not the spirits wherein it burns, neither destroys them; but rather, in proportion to its strength and heat, it brings them delight and deifies them, burning sweetly in them by reason of the purity of their spirits.[1]

While the highest degrees on the thermometer indicate spiritual ecstasy, the lowest degrees indicate spiritual freezing, a temperature at which you feel distant from the divine and absent of inspiration and sacred vibration. There is little motion or awakened emotion—only rigid words, concretized beliefs, and literal interpretations. In this frozen zone, more attention is paid to word and text than directly felt experience. Here you find the proliferation of dueling dualities, oppositional positioning, either-or war, and taxonomic taxidermy. The finger is made more primary than the moon to which it points, to borrow a well-worn Buddhist saying. Similarly, three letters of the alphabet—“g,” “o,” and “d”—are regarded as more important than feeling the numinous mystery that word is meant to evoke.

The difference between the hot and cold temperature zones is well illustrated by the experience of a textually oriented Christian missionary in Namibia who handed some Kalahari Bushman elders a Bible and said, “You can find God inside this book.” They were puzzled and after opening its pages replied, “Why is your God black and white and stuck on paper?” To the Bushmen, God dances and sings to spiritually cook them and is not frozen into static words.

All spiritual experience takes place in spiritual temperature zones ranging from freezing cold to sizzling hot. There is a time and place for cooler temperatures, which include contemplation, conversation, and the sharpening of mind. We live in a time, however, that overemphasizes stillness, mindfulness, tame talk, and cool composure at the expense of shaking bodies, singing voices, untamed expression, and awakened spiritual emotion. It’s time to welcome back the wisdom and know-how of ecstatic traditions that most highly value ongoing reentry into the spiritual fire.

For example – contrary to what some people may say – heartfelt emotion is the engine of spiritual locomotion. Without a sincere longing for divine connection you won’t be able to get anywhere near ecstatic mystical experience, even if you say all the right words or dance until you drop. You can’t be passive, lifeless, and without feeling and expect to ignite a spiritual fire. You must awaken the ecstatic emotion and make the soulful commotion that helps you climb from the cooler temperatures of everyday living to the divine fire found inside the highest mystery.

As you begin to thaw, your body will spontaneously move and dance. Your inner jukebox then wakes up and music arises with a soulful beat. When you do cross over into the spiritual heat, the trembling, quaking, and shaking begin. This is when pain and suffering are transformed into ecstatic joy and you are healed, rewired, transformed, and made new.

At some point the temperature will reach its peak and you will naturally start to cool down. The vibratory energy will lessen, and everyday speech and thought will become dominant again. The vibrancy, clarity, and inspiration you received from being cooked will remain with you, however, and flow through your daily work, play, and relationships. When this eventually wanes, you will again require another journey to the mystical fire. This is the natural cycle of the ecstatic spiritual life.

One sign of having been spiritually cooked is that you become less interested in coating sacred experience with layers of convoluted explanation and chilly discourse. You recognize the truth held in the words of the old hymn:

Blest was the hour that heav’nly fire

Lit up my darkened soul…

No tongue can tell the joy I felt

‘Tis better felt than told.”[2]

In contrast, whenever you resort to the emotionless repetition of memorized slogans, doctrinal verse, or habituated rituals, it’s a sign you have become spiritually lifeless and cold. This can be as true for Christians as it is for Buddhists, Jews, New Age and New Thought practitioners, as well as indigenous shamans. A consideration of the spiritual temperature setting enables us to discern new differences and similarities between spiritual orientations. For instance, most New Age “shamanism” takes place inside the same temperature range maintained in a Presbyterian church or a psychology clinic, whereas old school hot shamanism is more similar to the ecstatic expression found inside a holiness church or a Caribbean praise house. If you are truly a hunter of spiritual heat, you’ll go where the fire is, independent of whatever name is on the sign above the door.

More generally, whenever your mind is taking center stage as the narrator, commentator, interpreter, assessor, diagnostician, taxonomist, judge, critic, or play-by-play analyst, speech and thought reign over your experience of the present moment, keeping you inside the spiritual refrigerator. This is when you find yourself most prone to irritation by the mention of certain spiritual or religious words while pleased by others. (This includes whether you prefer the word “spiritual” rather than the word “religious.”) Put simply, if you are hung up on mind’s preferences, you are distant from the sacred and your spiritual temperature is low.

The alternative is to leave the spiritually cold name game behind and let your heart lead you to the spiritual fire, home to the universal language of rhythm, music, laughter, and extreme love. A direct encounter with the source of all creation bankrupts your desire to argue over what to name it. As Rumi proposes, “Close the language-door, and open the love-window.” When you do use words to speak of the sacred, reach for the poetry rather than the taxonomy. It will help bring you closer to the warmth of sacred ground. As Elizabeth Barrett Browning writes[3]:

Earth’s crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God:

But only he who sees takes off his shoes.

No matter what tradition you follow, Sacred Ecstatics invites you to take your spiritual temperature: Are you emotionally distant from the divine and cooled off by lifeless practice and soulless talk, or are you ecstatically trembling and singing inside the spiritual heat of mystery? While there is a time and place for every temperature from hot to cold, the spiritually cooked life requires ongoing odysseys to the divine mystery kitchen. This is where your soul is joyously cooked into soul food for the gods. To find your way there, take the advice of A. W. Tozer and “follow the insight of the enraptured heart rather than the more cautious reasoning of the theological mind.” Your inner longing to feel close to the sacred will guide you on the oldest mystical journey there is—the one that takes you up the spiritual thermometer to the infinite fire of divine love.

— The Keeneys


[1] Tyler, Peter. 2010. St. John of the Cross. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

[2] H.R. Jeffrey, 1885

[3] From her poem, Aurora Leigh

Go Back