When I informally but unequivocally left the Catholic church many years ago, I entered a period of emptiness, a desert of sorts from which there was little hope of exit. For all its flaws – and they were legion – Catholicism had been my spiritual home my whole life. Outside of it I was a stranger in a strange land.
As I wandered this metaphorical desert, a question began to evolve. I say “evolve” because that was truly how it appeared: slowly, over time, gradually refining and clarifying until I could ask it clearly and without any hindrance: what happened to the Jesus of history that he became the Christ of faith?
Of course, that is hardly a new or innovative question! And its personal significance for me did not necessarily translate to signficance for anybody else. But outside the formal bounds of faith (Catholic ritual, tradition and theology) my focus began to slip away from the man who died a criminal’s death and more towards the spirit that had infused him, informed his radical ministry, and assured – however one chose to understand it – his resurrection.
In other words, when I said “I and my father are one” it was intellectual and just words and moved nobody, least of all myself. When Jesus said it, the whole wheel of history shifted. Why?
I took on faith that God – however one defined God – was not contrary to Love and thus did not play favorites. What was given to Jesus, was given to the Buddha and was given to countless anonymous men and women up to and including me. It was not possible Jesus had anything I didn’t: yet somehow, he had come to an awareness or realization of what God had given him. He had become enlightened or awakened. And, adjusted for cultural and historical expression, this experience happened to men and women all the time in all places.
Though I did not understand it as such at the time – and could not possible have articulated it – I was slowly but surely shifting away from form to content, from the container in which Love temporarily rested to Love itself.
The unyielding intensity of this yearning meant that when A Course in Miracles floated into the periphery of my awareness (which, from time to time since my early twenties it had reliably done) I was able to at last grasp and hold onto it in a real and practical way. To extend the earlier metaphor, the desert was ended; I had entered the temple.
Two things happened early in my practice of the course, one of which I have written about previously, one which I have not. The one I have not written about was a series of intense dreams in which an old woman wrapped in several colorless shawls spoke to me. Or rather, her mouth moved as if she was speaking but I could hear nothing. It was like a pane of soundproof glass separated us. Then – the last night I dreamed her, perhaps driven by an almost manic desire to attend her teaching – the invisible wall between us evaporated and she said quite clearly: “Christ precedes Jesus and that which is Christ is given to all.”
I felt like a brook in early spring, relieved suddenly of ice and a winter’s worth of deadfall and blockage. Something moved again. Something flowed.
That simple sentence, manifest in a dream was largely consistent with A Course in Miracles, which refers to “the Christ” as “the perfect Son of God, His one creation and His happiness, forever like Himself and one with Him” (C-5.3:1), and notes later that our minds are part of the larger “Christ Mind” (C-6.4:1).
In my stumbling, baffled and wordy way, I have been trusting that insight ever since. As a result, my lifelong obsession with Jesus – ever conflating the historical Jesus with spirituality (a classic and unfortunately ruinous confusion of form and content) – has been diminishing like a snowman in April. And while I am deeply resistant to letting Jesus go this way, it is clear to me – and getting clearer by the minute – that is precisely what he asks.
“Letting go” in this context does not mean walking without him or promising to never call on him. Rather, it is more in the nature of agreeing to give attention to the Christ rather than a particular familiar (even comforting) form in which Christ resides.
If we are serious about activating the “state which is only potential” (T-1.II.3:13) in us – making it a present realization rather than a future gratification – then we are going to have to accept the truth that there is nothing about Jesus we cannot attain (T-1.II.3:10) and that, like him, we have “nothing that does not come from God” (T-1.II.3:11).
It is an unfortunate (and uncomfortable) fact that one can render Jesus an idol the same way they can render money or Tara Singh or A Course in Miracles an idol. When we make Jesus an idol, we do so in order to obscure the face of Christ he so gracefully extends. When he obscure Christ, we remain forever separate from our reality as perfect creations of a loving God.
I have done this. I am not alone and my intentions were good – as close to pure as my egoic self is capable – yet the result was the same. Who places Jesus on a pedestal – whether it is a crucifix or an altar – blocks Christ, and blocks Love, and suffers accordingly the unnecessary anguish.
I have always been moved by the second-to-last paragraph of the text. In it, Jesus adopts an intimate and personal tone of voice.
In joyous welcome is my hand outstretched to every brother who would join with me in reaching past temptation, and who looks with fixed determination toward the light that shines beyond in perfect constancy (T-31.VIII.11:1).
Please note that he does not say that we should gaze at him but rather at the “light that shines beyond.” He does not ask for worship or adoration (or credit or praise) but rather for companionship. He points to Christ and in doing so points to us. The whole of our journey rests in gazing not at Jesus but in the direction he would have us go.