Tuesday, August 7, 2007

the death of Jesus as metaphor

I call myself a Christian because the example of living in God that speaks most clearly to me is the life of Jesus. His message, his life, was about compassion and forgiveness, love and generosity. That, to me, is what life is all about.

I don't reckon most people, my mother included, who call themselves Christians would consider me one of them.

I am a follower of Jesus because his life and teachings speak to me. Since becoming a student of Jesus, I've pretty much ignored the death and subsequent Resurrection of Jesus as irrelevant to my condition. I thought of the Passion story as just that: A story that those who call themselves "born again" needed to make a movement out of a man-"proof" of Jesus' divinity. I ignored it because it didn't fit with my ideas about what Jesus was teaching and because of the baggage from Baptist upbringing.

I've had a bit of a change of mind, though. I've been aware of the metaphorical potential of Jesus' death, resurrection and ascension for a while, but it hadn't spoken to me until recently. One day a couple of weeks ago, I had an epiphany that Jesus' death wasn't about his literal death: It was an illustration of how one has to die to self, to kill one's ego, in order to live in God. Once we are able to transcend ourselves as individuals and live for God, we can be transformed, reborn as it were, as a new being in God.

In some ways this line of understanding seems very elitist. For a long time I rejected part and parcel of the Gnostics simply because what they seemed to be about was a secret knowledge that leads us to God. I can't hang with a belief system that requires that there will be some elect with the knowledge (power) and others left in the cold. I guess I felt strongly about this because it runs so contrary to what I was raised to believe: That Jesus died on the cross for the sins of everyone and if we believe in him and "ask him into our hearts" we will be saved and will spend eternity in heaven with God (even though I'd stopped believing all that decades ago). But now I realize that anyone who listens for the still, small voice within, is stepping on the path that leads to a death to self and life with Christ. It's not about esoteric knowledge; it's about listening to Truth.

My church of origin was Midwest Baptist: Country club and hells-fire-and-brimstone at once. There was a lot of hypocrisy, which is why I first began questioning, but there were some beautiful and very sincere and loving folks, too. There was one woman, Betty, who embodied "faith of a child". She was what everyone called mentally slow. She was not very articulate verbally but her actions spoke volumes about love. She served God by serving God's children. She worked in the kitchen at church (women's positions being very narrowly defined), always there to wash dishes after a potluck or clean up after a youth group sleepover. She served without expecting to be noticed. And she always seemed happy to do so, to know that she had a role to play. To me, her life was an example of how Jesus told us to live-humbly, with love as our guide. She didn't need any knowledge or teaching, she did what her heart lead her to do.

I think this is what guides Friends: Doing what our hearts lead us to do (by heart I mean intuition, inner Light, or whatever term one might be comfortable using to describe God within). God may lead some of us to serve by keeping the kitchen clean and others by going into politics or teaching or raising a family. Whatever it is, our faith leads us to listen to the Guide and follow where it leads. If we are faithful to even the smallest call, we are doing the will of God. As Caroline Fox said: "Live up to the light thou hast, and more will be granted thee."