A little over a week ago, my partner and I were on to discussing the differences between Jews and Christians. She converted almost two years ago to Judaism after having been raised in… and then rejecting…the Roman Catholic Church. I have been reconnecting with my Christianity, specifically through my Episcopal tradition. For the record: our daughter, a cat named Valkyrie, could care less about her parents’ religious tendencies. Typical of a “child”!
In the course of this discussion about whether or not Jesus is just another prophet or is the Messiah, Isabelle remarked that for Jews, there’s a simple saying, “If somebody tells you the Messiah has come, look out the window and if nothing’s changed, then the Messiah hasn't come yet.”
I got to thinking about that comment. She has a point. If I look out a window…or if I look at the world…not a lot has changed. We are still in an endless stupid war in Iraq, we still have politicians who spout empty phrases to thunderous applause, we still have gas prices that are going up, and a consumer confidence index that is shrinking due to escalating debt. From this vantage point, it would seem the world is still the same mess it has always been.
But from where I sit, things have changed. Not that the physical world and the actions of the human race have changed, but rather how I respond and react and live in this world has greatly changed in the past few months. It has had to change. Beyond the death of my father, I have had this awakening that is leading me to greater exploration of what it means to be a member of the body of Christ. And that journey has turned me upside down and inside out, so much so that I just feel different than I did before. I don’t have the same level of anxiety and fear that I used to feel. And when I do have fear, I can recognize it, name it, and know that it does not have to be all consuming and defining of who I am. This is not to say that I’m a Pollyanna about the world: far from it! But by having faith and trust in God, I can see my way through my fears…even when it is uncomfortable. And sometimes I’ll be reminded not to make mountains out of mole hills!
So, in sharing this idea with Isabelle that I do see things differently and I do attribute that to seeing the world with my new spiritual eyes, she gave me a sideways glance, and wanted to know if I thought one had to believe in Jesus in order to see the world as a spiritual person.
“No, absolutely not!” And I reiterated for her my steadfast belief that God is infinitely smarter, wiser and more resourceful than we can begin to comprehend, and would never have been so narrow-minded as to present only one path to eternal life. I believe we’re all going to be amazed in the end to discover that each of us who has accepted the invite to the ultimate peace, love and happiness party will be arriving in the same dance hall only through different doorways! It’s only in this realm where we will continue to draw distinctions and divisions between ourselves and decide who is more worthy of the invitation.
For me, some of what brought this on was the story in the Gospel of John where the Pharisee, Nicodemus, tells Jesus that it’s clear he’s a teacher and is of God (Ha—little does he know…) and that leads into a discussion that eventually gets to the oft-quoted, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son…” passage. And it got me to wondering more about this whole “born-again” idea. That term, as one who has seen the worst face of Christianity too often, gives me the creeps. Not for the same way Nicodemus was puzzled by it (asking how one could literally climb back into the womb and be born again), but because the term has been co-opted by hateful fundamentalists and used like a baton to beat on those who “don’t believe”. But, and this is a huge but, if I understand the exchange that Jesus is having in that section of John’s gospel (which is much more than John 3:16!) what Jesus is saying is that until you see the world anew, you won’t see the kingdom of God. And that renewed outlook comes in the change in your spirit and your willingness to live in lightness rather than darkness. Your willingness not to let all that is “out there” invade the core of your own being and define you and make you miserable.
Again, John’s gospel message is being delivered to those of us who have become followers of Christ, but that idea of how “to be” is not just for Christians and has been imparted by others (e.g. the Buddha) who, I believe, are all escorts to the same party house.
OK, so where did this conversation with my Jewish partner end? Interestingly, we got onto the “second coming” and what that meant. She talks of returning to Jerusalem…in a spiritual sense as much as a physical all-the-Messianic-people-crammed-into-one-city sense. And I feel much the same way. It would seem to me that rather than us looking for great balls of fire, and horsemen galloping, and all that, I think the second coming will be when we all recognize there is a power of unconditioned good and unconditional love. It is there for everyone, and there is a collective move in the direction of the light rather than always staying in the dark. And that ain't easy! And, without putting words in her mouth, I think my partner and I agree it probably won’t happen in our lifetime.
So, she says tomato, I say tomahto, and we're both talking about the same fruit!
And our cat child walks in the room, still finds us “way too talky” and goes to bed. Typical!