Thanks for the response. In the 35 years that you were a very strong Christian, did you ever at any time feel the presence of God? And, if not, why were you a very strong Christian? I guess the part that is puzzling to me is why you felt that you were "very strong". Did you never have a sense of God's presence in any worship service, prayer, walk in the forest, etc? Forgive me if I'm getting to personal - I'm genuinely interested in people's subjective experiences.
It's a fair question, and not too personal, although in retrospect, I feel slightly foolish.
Yes, I absolutely felt what I thought was God's presence, the whisper of his voice, nudgings in my heart, the overwhelming flood of his spirit within mine...... my personal "experiencing God" ran the gamut of mainstream (America) Christian experience, though never was I so filled with the spirit that I spoke in tongues. (Again, that was a product of my teaching. If I had been raised in a charismatic church, I certainly would have manifested the holy spirit in that way...... there's a lot of peer pressure in those circles to "prove" your spirituality in that way).
So, how do I explain those feelings to myself?
I have come to understand that people interpret our spiritual experiences through our beliefs. If I am inspired by a brilliant thought now, I just think I'm awesome.
As a Christian, I would have thought it was God. If I'm deeply moved by something in nature: the Grand Canyon, Northern lights, fresh snow sparkling in trees, a baby's smile, i can just appreciate the fact that it's beautiful and moving, and that's where those feelings come from.
I've also learned that people all over the world get into mental states of "ecstasy". Sometimes music is a pathway (church worship), sometimes meditation is a pathway (prayer). So these feelings are NOT exclusive to Christianity and they are NOT from a God. They are actually scientifically explainable. I've just had to reinterpret the feelings that I experience(d).