Christ Before Jesus

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.

{ 7 comments… add one }
  • Sean Reagan December 17, 2013, 1:00 pm

    The quoted text at the end suggests the familiar zen image of the student who confuses her teacher’s finger for the moon. I love that image and the lesson it offers! I talk a bit about that here.

    Also, I want to be clear about two things.

    First, I am not suggesting that a relationship with Jesus is a bad thing or a sign that someone is spiritually underdeveloped. And I am absolutely not suggesting that my relationship with Jesus should be a model for yours or anybody else’s.

    Rather, I am simply pointing out a shift in my understanding of that important relationship for myself. If it’s helpful in some way great but if it’s not, please don’t sweat it. You know more than I do about you and Jesus.

    Second, I am aware of the question inside the broad ACIM community about whether the historical Jesus wrote the course or whether Helen was just using him as a symbol of love in order to facilitate the scribal process. Sometimes, talking about Jesus the way this post does opens the door to that (passionate) discussion. It wasn’t my intention to use this post to express an opinion on that matter (I did in a comment here if you are really interested) though of course I understand if anyone feels a need to engage around that question.

    Okay . . . Thanks for reading . . . it’s snowing here, lovely and quiet.

    ~ Sean

  • Cheryl December 17, 2013, 1:51 pm

    I have sometimes pondered the idea (my own) that we find the Course or the Course finds us — at least some of us, perhaps many of us — because it IS Jesus speaking from that Christ (or God) space; that because of our various backgrounds, we are already grounded in Christ, (so to speak) and are able on some level to recognize him and “allow” him entry in this fashion. He feels familiar, approachable, dare I say, brotherly.

    But to truly let him into our hearts in a way that is transformational, we must separate the man from the Spirit in our minds. Recognizing that Jesus the man repeatedly chose “the strength of Christ” over his own human weakness until he “became” the strength of Christ is both humbling and inspiring. It’s humbling when we really “get” that we can’t do this on our own, that our ego self is incapable of making this choice, and it’s inspiring because Jesus is proof that we can (dare I say we will) live entirely from this Christ space. It’s a choice we get to make over and over again, turning to the Holy Spirit to guide us until, we, too, embody the Christ energy, and we, in a very real sense, return to God.

    Like your beautiful and poignant dream, I had a similar moment, Sean. It was a few months back, in that twilight zone right before sleep, when I suddenly saw in my mind’s eye an image of Jesus sitting quietly by a rock. I saw him as both the man and the Spirit. And with great clarity I knew, I mean KNEW, we were both the same. In that moment, I felt this deep well of gratitude and joy that I carried with me into sleep. And although the intensity of the feeling has faded, the memory lingers.

    As you said, I think that shift in understanding is necessary. Until we see that we, too, are the Christ, we will not be able to see the light beyond, or as you stated so beautifully:

    “The whole of our journey rests in gazing not at Jesus but in the direction he would have us go.”

    Take care,
    Cheryl

    P.S. Enjoy the snow. My northern side misses its quiet beauty here in southern Virginia.

    • Sean Reagan December 17, 2013, 5:56 pm

      Hey Cheryl.

      Yes, I think you are right. I know a great deal of my own willingness to latch on to the course had to do with the fact that it was the voice of Jesus in a familiar way, neatly meshing with my long experience of following/studying/praying in a Jesus tradition.

      Actually, the Freudian language helped, too, in a similar way.

      That said, my experience of Jesus and the course has shifted and evolved a lot, often quite rapidly. Sometimes that has been distressing, as I think I said to you recently. But getting clear about Jesus and Christ seems helpful and helps settle me some.

      Dreams of that nature are lovely, aren’t they?

      Yes, snow . . . how’d the tree trimming go? We just put ours up last week. The kids bought me old-fashioned tree lights, like what I remember from the early seventies when I was little – they are big and bulbous and make me so happy. I am a sucker for lights. An effort was made to remove my big mirror ball from the living room (just for the season) but I put a Santa hat on it and set it on the fireplace mantle just to the east of our little manger scene. It’s the Bethlehem disco.

  • Cheryl December 18, 2013, 7:19 am

    Ha! Ha! Love your Bethlehem disco idea; since time is illusory it fits somehow…. 🙂

    I love “bulbous” lights, too. Growing up, my father (who died in 1992 but clearly is with me on this path) and I were in charge of trimming the tree and we strung those same lights. Now I do a mix, large and tiny, all different colors, and bask in it every chance I get.

    Like you, I’m a sucker for lights. I imagine that’s a no-brainer, really…. 🙂

  • Cheryl December 18, 2013, 7:30 am

    Oops…did I say 1992? I meant 1990. Alaina was born in 1992.

  • Eric December 18, 2013, 7:57 am

    Hi Sean,

    You got me thinking about why the course speaks to me. When I was 5 years old, I remember reading, “Footprints in the Sand” at my nana’s house.

    The very first time I read it, I cried uncontrollably. Looking back, it seemed they were tears of gratitude more than anything. All I know is that the anonymous poem spoke to my little 5 year old mind on a deep and profound level. I would often read that poem (if that’s what it is) at my nana’s house and smile, feeling a sense of gratitude. Even today, all of my bookmarks in my books are “Footprints in the Sand.”

    I grew up Baptist sporadically going to church and Bible school. I think the most consistent I went to church is when I lived in Arkansas and went to a Southern Baptist church when I was around 7 years old. I remember looking forward to church back then. It was much like one sees in the movies. Chorus of singers, the Holy Spirit “grabbing” people, and a sense of something more than what could be seen. During this time I never thought of Jesus as this person who demanded our thanks for “his sacrifice” (though being a Southern Baptist Church, I’m sure this is what they taught), but as someone who wanted to bring the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, as us kids would sing over and over gleefully.

    Moving back to California, we stopped going to church. I got older and started to see the bigotry and hatred that was done in the name of Christianity, and I began to feel an animosity towards God and Jesus was pushed into the back of my mind.

    I moved to Seattle as a teenager and was in my late teens when the “Grunge Movement” happened. During this time, there were the hipsters wearing their “ironic T-Shirts”. I remember one day there was this guy that had a shirt that said, “Jesus Hates You”. Amazingly, it triggered such an anger in me that I confronted the guy and ripped into him about his shirt, and how could he even think that what it said was true?

    He replied to me the very same animosities that I held against God due to the bigotry and actions done in His name as to the reason for the shirt. I replied that why is he superimposing this onto Jesus? Jesus never said to do any of these things that people do in his name?! I told this complete stranger how stupid his logic was. LOL, do you see the disconnect here? I was defending Jesus for the very same reasons I was condemning God. I suppose that I unconsciously held a special relationship with Jesus that I was unaware of.

    When I first read ACIM, I felt that what I was reading was really how Jesus was. This was the Jesus that didn’t demand thanks, but instead, sincerely wanted to help me. He presented himself neither as a teacher to be exalted, as my church did, nor to be rejected, as the hipster in the shirt did. Instead, Jesus presented himself as not only like me, but a part of me. Jesus earnestly emphasized that we could do/be what he is, because this is what/who we are in Truth. Jesus only asked to take him as a model, not an idol.

    Yes, Jesus is that Zen master pointing at the moon, telling us we are the Christ.

    Eric

    • Sean Reagan December 20, 2013, 8:38 am

      Thank you for sharing this, Eric. The first time I encountered the footsteps in the sand poem was at my grandmother’s house too. It is so simple but beautiful and moving.

      And I love this paragraph:

      This was the Jesus that didn’t demand thanks, but instead, sincerely wanted to help me. He presented himself neither as a teacher to be exalted, as my church did, nor to be rejected, as the hipster in the shirt did. Instead, Jesus presented himself as not only like me, but a part of me. Jesus earnestly emphasized that we could do/be what he is, because this is what/who we are in Truth. Jesus only asked to take him as a model, not an idol.

      I think that is true, and well-put. All I would add is that in my experience, that relationship – in the context of ACIM – has been a dynamic and shifting one.

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