Now, He does not “literally” speak to me. I don’t hear voices or anything like that. If it should happen I would refill my prescription of industrial-strength Haldol quickly! But my imagination, so long dormant or even imprisoned within tyrannical linear thought is finally coming out to play and from time to time I like to interpret a few things I’m learning in the realm of spirituality with the following refrain, “Jesus said unto me….”
For example, in the mid eighties when I was knee deep in my “great depression” and was walking past a large Baptist church to get my favorite comfort food, ice cream, and I just noticed that for the first time in my life I had no tinge of guilt for not being there in that moribund house of worship, for disobeying the biblical injunction to “forsake not the assembling together as the manner of some is,” And this tid-bit of freedom has been burgeoning through my life since then, slowly working away on that deep-seated core of guilt and shame that had kept me in Christian bondage. And there on that street that summer night, Jesus told me, “Hey Louie, its ok! You don’t have to do that anymore! You are free, my son! You’ve done your time, done your penance…a penance you never did have to do in the first place; for, after all, that’s what I was about. Remember? Remember? Remember?”
And Jesus continued to speak to me and to tell me, “Hey, that whole Christian thingy. You don’t have to do that any longer. I paid the price for your freedom from all bondage, even the bondage to “me”….which by the way I never had in mind!” I began to explore this vein of thought and realized that in the way I had been taught in my youth, I was no longer a Christian and Jesus was telling me it was ok.
So I wondered in that wilderness for years, knowing that I was not an atheist or even agnostic even with this radical vein of thought coming to me from Jesus, of all people. For, yes I had lost my religion, I had lost my family, I had lost my childhood friends, I had given up professional employment and was living on a meager income, barricaded in the basement of an office building. I had “lost” everything. But, I then realized that Jesus and the Christian tradition was still there even though “it” had lost its grip on me. I no longer “had” to be Christian but realized that I still believed fully that Jesus walked the face of this earth and trotted out a lot of marvelous ideas….and lived them, embodied them! Now it is true, dealing with “loss” of this type…and speaking now as a clinician…can lead to radical loss which is known in my trade as psychosis. But I knew that history was still present for my scrutiny and that Jesus had been here in history in some shape, form, or fashion and though we know little about Him, we can surmise that he was a powerful spiritual teacher and I found that his teachings had great value for me, greater value for me than ever before. And I realized that this meant that I was a Christian and always had been and this “loss” I had experienced was the “loss” of the letter of the law which in the subsequent decades has allowed the “spirit of the law” to begin to flow in my heart and life.
And since then, Jesus has said occasionally, “Hey Louie! You are beginning to get it! You find me only when you lose me, you find me only when you lose the “idea” of me and discover me deeply in the inner depths of your own heart, discovering that the Kingdom is within. And, Louie, this “loss” you experienced is an ongoing experience but this is only the loss of your ego self which is what I had in mind when I taught that you can find yourself only when you are willing to lose yourself.
Since then I’ve come to realize why most Christians hyper-ventilate with the Mel Gibson “Passion of Christ” stuff for with that imagery they can allow the story of Jesus, his death, burial, and resurrection to remain…in their mind…an historical “fact” and miss the point that he was “the lamb slain before the foundation of the world.” This allows them to keep Him and the whole story a mere conceptual narrative which has nothing in the least to do with the depths of their heart where the real “death, burial, and resurrection” must take place. They cling tenaciously to the “idea” of Jesus just as they cling to the “idea” of their own identity for to let go of the “idea” and embrace the experience would mean letting the ego die, it would mean following the advice of W. H. Auden who encouraged us to, “climb the rugged cross of the moment and let our illusions die.”
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But with this vein of thought, I always am brought to the realization that I have just condemned them all to hell! By that I mean, in the old-brain mind-set of “literallew” they do not believe the “right way” and therefore are “lost as a goose in a hail storm.” But the marvel of the Jesus story is that…as the old evangelical hymn puts it, “Jesus paid it all.” Sure, they don’t get it “right” but guess who else does not get it “right”? C’est moi? None of us get it “right” but the message of Jesus is that we are forgiven nevertheless! And as far as getting it “right”, please define right for me? “Right” will always be a rational construction, a formulation arising from the depths of the heart which always has a deep-seated need to legitimate its preconceptions. And that is why Christianity has often been a laughing-stock, easy fodder for late-night comedians such as Bill Maher who see readily through the non-sense and confront them with reality. But, being confronted with reality, most Christians have a built-in escape, captured by W. H. Auden with this note, “When Truth met him, and held out his hand, he clung in panic to his tall belief and shrank away like an ill-treated child.”