On Mistaking Jesus

When I was a little boy, one of my favorite songs was Art Garfunkel’s Mary. It was haunting and melodic. When we went snowmobiling and the wind howled past us I would sing that song at the top of my voice. The adults driving always gave me a look, but it didn’t matter. I have always trusted songs that beg to be sung aloud.

These lyrics at the end of the song are my favorite:

And if you watch the stars at night
and you find them shining equally bright
Then you might have seen Jesus
and not have known what you saw.
Who would notice a gem
in a five and dime store?

I spend a lot time outside at night – often in the forest – and the sky always speaks to me. The ten thousand stars, the sprawling misty seam of the Milky Way, familiar and unfamiliar constellations, and the spacious blackness that seems to go without depth . . . I can lose myself in it for hours, walking with head up (in winter) or on my back in a field (in summer).

Christ is with us, and through Christ, God. This is not idle language but a promise inherent in the truth of what we are.

I also understand – perhaps more intimately than I’d like – with the experience of having “seen Jesus” and now knowing what I saw. Mary implies – rightly, I think – that the Jesus in question is not the man of history but rather an experience of profound and beautiful love. It is always available and – sadly – almost always overlooked.

It reminds me a little of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Jesus joins them and shares the way for hours and they don’t recognize who it is. Not until evening, when he breaks bread with them, do they see who is with them – despite his execution. Thus they learn that what is eternal goes with them always. On one level, Emmaus is a eucharistic story, and on another, a much-needed reminder that we are never without Christ.

A Course in Miracles has this to say about our capacity for recognizing the value of our judgment – especially when it comes to spiritual matters.

. . . you cannot distinguish between advance and retreat. Some of your greatest advances you have judged as failures, and some of your deepest retreats you have evaluated as success (T-18.V.1:5-6).

So some humility and patience is always in order.

It is nice from time to time to give attention to where we are and to what is happening around us: Christ is with us, and through Christ, God. This is not idle language but a promise inherent in the truth of what we are. It is no mistake to remember that.

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