I am a Christian – an identity that I wish reflected more clearly what I mean by that. The reason I wish it was clearer is that, as an atheist friend has pointed out more than once, the label has so many meanings as to be virtually meaningless.
Many might disagree, but I see his point.
We who say we are Christian run the gamut from Biblical literalists to folks for whom great swaths of the Bible are metaphor. There are Christians for whom their denomination is the only true way to be a Christian, leaving the rest of us out in the theological cold. There are Christians for whom Jesus is what their religion is all about, others for whom it is the Spirit and others who see both Jesus and the Spirit as lenses through which to approach how humanity might best relate to the Great Mystery at the heart of creation. There are Christians for whom Jesus is the only way to “salvation,” (meaning different things to different people) and others who believe God is not so limiting. And there are Christians for whom the purpose of their faith is to “get to heaven” while there are others for whom it is to live this human life as authentically as possible leaving the world a better place. I could go on.
But with whichever splinter of the Christian spectrum any single “Christian” finds him or herself, by virtue of the label Christ is somewhere involved. And the most common phrases I’ve heard to describe that involvement are that we are either to “believe in Jesus” or to “follow him.”
What if there were yet another way to be involved with Christ that could bridge the various chasms that separate us as Christians? What if that way might also be a bridge that could unite us to folks of other faiths and those of no faith as well? Could such a way be not simply to “believe in” or to “follow” Jesus, but to “participate” in what Jesus participated in?
Humans have this capacity – not just Christian humans – all humans. And Jesus taught those of us who look to him that there is one way to enliven this capacity. We must die to self. We must let go. Let go of striving. Let go of achieving. Let go of ego. We must just let go.
In her 2009 article, “Mystical Experience or Unitive Seeing,” Cynthia Bourgeault quotes the contemporary mystical theologian Ramon Panikkar. In his book Christophany (pp 115-16) he writes: “I am one with the source insofar as I, too, act as a source by making everything I have received flow again just like Jesus.” Bourgeault adds, “If you would see as God sees, you must flow as God flows.”
We aren’t so good at flowing. We like stability. We like certainty. We like the familiar and the comfortable. To step into the flow in which Jesus so fully existed can be unsettling. To participate in the reality in which Jesus lived can feel like it requires too much of us….unless we have caught at least a glimpse of divine consciousness. If we have, we sense what Bourgeault describes. We sense that moving into that place out of which Jesus lived requires letting go even of spiritual or mystical experiences “as consciousness steps out into that bare, positionless freedom that is unity.”
“Believe in Jesus” - a fine first step. If that is the extent of our faith life, though, we will be left in a place where we won’t even be able to see that all reality is One. “Follow Jesus” – for us Christians this is a next step that will take us deeper. It will serve as a training ground where our hearts can be softened and our vision can begin to clear. “Participate in what Jesus participated in” – in the simple, regular practice of opening our hearts and letting go (in churchy language – kenosis) we can begin to walk the path that leads to seeing from Oneness.
With all the various ways of being Christian, why would anyone who looks to Jesus not want to move from believing to following to participation? Oh, yes….there is that dying-to-self.
Leigh Waggoner is priest at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. She can be reached at 565-7865, or firstname.lastname@example.org.