I dedicate this post to our conversation which has inspired and challenged me these many months now. I do want to keep talking to you about my use of the term "non-theist" if you are willing to also keep talking to me. We do have one little difficulty in that a good portion of the way I think is intuitive. It results in perceptions that fall outside of language but which I then translate to an audience in words. If I were an artist, I might be in a better position to communicate.
It goes something like this:
Here is the "Something" I have experienced. (*!*) The words I attach to it are merely a sign of the thing, not the thing itself. I'm aware that when I attach a symbol to the (*!*), I alter the original meaning of (*!*) since each word carries with it connotations I do not intend. There is no way to filter unintentional meaning out your head when I suggest a potential definition of my experience. I say "God" or "Light" or "Reason" or "Power" and the purity of my experience is already sullied in the translation because your experience of these words is not the same as mine and both of us possess historical and cultural translations of these words that create drag and prohibit swiftness of shared revelation.
Poetic and metaphorical language give me a better chance of communicating to you since I can intentionally apply seemingly paradoxical symbols to my experience in the hopes that the ultimate and transcendent meaning I intend but cannot adequately describe will flash briefly in the moment of confusion. Since my understanding of the Numinous tends to be acquired at the margins, my metaphors also tend to play a lot with paradox and to rest outside of orthodox definitions. For me, what some might call "God" is that which is both intimately real and even commonplace and wholly Other and Ineffable. If I use the word "God", people think I mean what I do not mean. The butterfly is pinned and people think I mean wings and legs and antennae when what I meant was flutter and delight and tenderness. The essence of the butterfly cannot be pinned. The Essence of the Divine also cannot be described. To me, this is the real meaning of idolatry, to settle one's faith in any given word or concept. That is why I resist theism.
I can explain this differently and I would if speaking to a non-theist, like one of my uncles or my father, who cringe at my emotional language. In fact, I will try to explain this differently later. I can speak in that dialect too although it is not native to me. Using metaphorical language, I probably make a lot more sense to you than when I use my "rational" language. That's the whole Jekyll and Hyde thing again. Although I'm resistant to a more literal or personified interpretation of "God", I have a profound sense of the numinous. I couldn't get away from that if I tried so I'm probably a lousy example of non-theism.
I suspect that many non-Christian and non-theist Friends are difficult to place into any tidy categories. Why would an atheist become a Quaker? I think the answer lies in the liminal areas that western dualism abhors. When you look at the kinds of misfits who call themselves "non-theist" or "non-Christian" Friends, you'll probably find people whose philosophical and experiential backgrounds bend gender, cultural, and even Cartesian boundaries of "this-ness" and "that-ness." What are the words to describe "not-this-ness" and "not-that-ness"? That's tough to do. From an historical perspective, we are a civilization in transition. Our old definitions do not serve us so well any longer and the new words are still being invented, still feel awkward on our tongues. We are still in the act of breaking the tension of the water but have not yet made the dive into the deeper layers beneath.
On top of that, you and I are working from different genders, generations, regions, and religious backgrounds. Much of the complications of our communication come from the metaphorical and philosophical tools we use to describe our experience. We are speaking in different philosophical and gendered dialects. Our bodies will experience the input of "Spirit" differently and our brains will translate those experiences differently again. Does that mean that "Spirit" is different? Laying aside verbal tools and intellectual approaches, I just feel, strongly, that you and I are just not that different where it counts. If there were a tender spot on the soul, a kind of spiritual tympanum where the "Voice of the Divine" resonates, I would say that you and I have heard the same Voice. Even when your words are foreign to me, I still believe I can hear "where your words come from."