It's Christmas, and I've been reflecting increasingly on Jesus and the meaning he has in my life.
I wouldn't call myself a Christian or Mormon. But I'm definitely a lover of Jesus. As I've discussed before, I love religious metaphors primarily for they evoke inside of me. And Jesus evokes SO MUCH inside of me. Whether or not Jesus of Nazareth was actually the promised Messiah or God Himself is not something I can ever know. But I can observe what interacting with Jesus as symbol and metaphor do to my heart.
And I find it utterly expansive, and here's why:
Jesus lived by embracing. He was a "man of sorrows and acquainted with grief," but he met his sorrow and pain fully and completely and without every looking back. And he embraced the pains and suffering of others, too. He taught something radical--that pains and sorrows were blessed! Those who mourned were blessed! He taught that those who embrace their weaknesses would be the ones who shone as lights to the world.
The paradox of Christ is, I think, encompassed most fully in the teaching that we must lose our lives to save them. What an odd thought--that loss of life is necessary to live completely. The story and symbols of Jesus are inseparable from the ways that life and death interact with our lives. He was an Eternal Being, the great "I AM," and the only way for him to deliver eternal life to his people was to die. And he embraced death.
To me, this is deeply symbolic of the fact that life and death are utterly inseparable. Life can only survive off of death! We have to ingest dead plants and animals to convert them into the energy of our own lives. How interesting that we would need to ingest the symbols of a dead God each week in order to continue living spiritually.
The ritual of the sacrament within Mormonism and of communion in the broader Christian world is holy to me not because of anything in and of itself, but because of what it points to. Ingesting the symbols of a dead God to resurrect my spiritual self points to the holiness of every meal I eat. Each meal was brought to me by the process of Life--the dynamic of which is the force that I personify in God. These sacred rituals taught by Jesus point me not to an escape of this world and its process of life and death creating each other, but an embrace of it.
And there's an interesting death that I believe has to happen within us in order to wake up into being--the death of the stories we tell ourselves. We give ourselves reasons for our suffering, we tell ourselves narratives about our lives. We adopt labels and make observations about the type of person we are. In order to actually live, these parts of us have to die. Life is utterly dynamic--constantly changing and evolving. The labels we give ourselves often bind us to a dead past.
Letting go of labels very difficult. In the last year I've abandoned the label of "Mormon" and the label of "straight." And it really did feel like death! When I finally came out to myself and decided I didn't believe in the truth claims of the church anymore, it felt like straight, heterosexual Josh died. And I literally went through the grieving process.
Immediately, I started grasping at labels again. I grasped at "gay," "atheist," "existentialist," "Taoist," etc. But none of them really expressed wholly who I am.
I love Rumi's poem "Only Breath"
Not Christian, or Jew, or Muslim, not Hindu,
Buddhist, Sufi, or zen. Not any religion
or cultural system. I am not from the East
or the West...
My place is placeless, a trace
Of the traceless...
Only that breath breathing human being.
Equally powerful is a similar poem by Hafiz:
I have learned so much from God that
I can no longer call myself a Christian,
A Hindu, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Jew.
The Truth has shared so much of itself
with me that I can no longer call myself
a man, a woman, an angel, or even a pure soul.
Love has befriended Hafiz so completely
it has turned to ash and freed me of
every concept and image my mind has ever known.
Both Hafiz and Rumi had experienced this death I'm talking about--the death of the ego. The annihilation of everything we think we know about ourselves and the world--the complete embrace of life exactly how it is without expectation or judgment.
Jesus said himself that he came "not to condemn the world, but that it might be saved."
Maybe our salvation doesn't rest on finding the right name to be called--whether it's Christian, Mormon, Jew, Hindu, etc. Maybe salvation is available at every moment by choosing to participate fully in being. Jehovah, after all, declared himself to be the great "I AM." Jesus died so that we could be reunited with being itself.
And so today, on Christmas day, my interaction with the concept of Christ inspires me to practice letting go. To die to myself and awake to Being. To choose to embrace life completely as it is, no matter the pains, fears, and sorrows that are there along the way. Christ evokes within me the feeling that true beauty is encompassed in the Whole--it is in difficulties as much as joys!