“Jesus said ‘I am the way, the truth and the light, no man cometh unto the father but my me’ Gospel of John” [sic]
I knew it was coming, but I still did a tiny double take when John 14:6 popped up as an unrelated comment on an Instagram post of mine from a few weeks back. That post was of a three card Goddess pull I had made – no God or divinity related hashtags, no reference to Christ or Christianity. I still can’t figure out why this was the place the comments began. It was an interesting choice. Maybe it was selected because in some ways it offered one of those extra layers of anonymity that the Internet allows.
But I got the point.
Its writer disagrees with my thoughts on Christianity.
I can’t say I was surprised.
* * *
Last week, RVA’s local paper, the Richmond Times Dispatch, put out its Fall 2017 issue of Discover Richmond Magazine – the issue it titled its “2018 Annual Guide”. I was included as one of 22 “cool and connected” Richmonders profiled in the issue. While flattered, I also found it hilarious, as I would consider myself anything but cool (hello marching band, golf team, bookworm-for-life over here) and in the last 18 months I have taken painstaking efforts to disconnect myself from much of the city and the world.
They actually called me a “faith and healing writer”, a characterization that I couldn’t help but smile at seeing as how less than two years ago someone I considered a dear friend told me he would never consider me a writer. And he actually made me think I wasn’t. Somehow I kept writing.
But that is beside the point.
The point is that they asked me to address my relationship to Christianity. And in response I said:
I believe the Divine came to Earth in the form of a mortal to demonstrate how it is that we might create heaven on Earth. I also subscribe to the theology that there are many doors by which we can access the Divine. In addition to Christ, I connect through Ganesha, Durga, St. Francis and Mary Magdalene, among others. While many would posit that this belief alone precludes me from calling myself a Christian, I disagree. Striving to live a life in the image of Christ makes me a Christian.
I wrote this answer months before the piece was published, and as I reread my own words as I scanned the final product, I couldn’t help but wonder how long it would be until the backlash began.
The answer: thirty-six hours.
* * *
For as long as I can remember, I have been confounded by mankind’s apparent need to take issue with those they disagree with, misunderstand, or otherwise consider “other”. I have never understood how my belief in something – anything – necessarily precluded someone else from holding a different belief.
I have also long struggled with the idea of evangelism. Maybe its because I didn’t grow up in a church where that seemed to be the thing or maybe it’s a side effect of my introverted shy nature that made me break out in a cold sweat over selling chocolate bars door to door as a kid, nevermind selling my version of the Divine. But whatever it was, it never really struck me as okay to attempt to persuade someone to my personal side of the theology debate. My God[dess] and my faith and my practices are my very personal business. And yours are yours. What does it matter if they match up exactly? We are different people, after all. So it seems to go without saying that we wouldn't take the same paths to God.
But I've often felt like the minority in holding this viewpoint.
* * *
“Stand here and don’t move,” he said, shifting my shoulders slightly before running off like a giddy schoolboy on Christmas morning. I did a little shuffle-ball-change dance in place, trying to ward off the early fall chill, and gazed up at the speckles of stars overhead. My eyes fell to the horizon just in time to see her light up.
“Isn’t she beautiful?” I heard his voice behind me. “Come on.”
He threw his arm around my shoulders – a gesture that I have come to know so well – and we strolled toward the illuminated lotus.
I have known him for a scoatch over a year and we had planned for some time to share dinner for my birthday and say goodbye one last time before boarding a plane to Peru – a one way ticket sending him off for an uncertain period of time. Our hearts are bound to one another by our individual journeys toward the Divine and healing and the weight of sending off this one I have come to adore floated thick around us as we made our way through the night air.
While I have made advancements in the arena of nonattachment, I am still not particularly fond of open-ended goodbyes.
We had always spent time together in Richmond, despite the fact that we often talked about my making my way to the ashram for a visit – to experience his world. But it wasn’t until his very last week in the community that a last-minute change of events found me winding my way there as the sun set over the hills.
As we entered the lotus, I took in something of a museum making up its first floor. Items sacred to various religions covered the walls of the circular room. We silently wandered around the space, taking in the varied languages, the intricate embroidery adorning delicate fabrics, the detailed carvings.
“We all have so much in common,” he said softly as we met up in front of the Buddhist relics.
“We do,” I answered. “So then why do we fight so much?”
* * *
In the days that followed the scripture bomb on my Instagram account, I found my mind wandering to something Father Richard said during the Living School symposium back in August. I cant remember his words exactly, so I’ll have to paraphrase. But it was something along the lines of the worst thing that Christianity did for itself was to create the church. That in doing so it naturally created a dualistic system - one of us versus them, right versus wrong. We entered into a place of competition and division.
While the question the reporter had posed to me was about my relationship to Christianity, what I actually ended up addressing in my response was my relationship to the church. I broke free from much in the last year, but perhaps the most defining of those fractures was the one that found me releasing the stranglehold I had maintained on organized religion for so very long. For while I had always assumed that at some point I would finally stumble on the particular set of rules that would draw me ever closer to God, it turned out I grew closest when I stopped playing by others' rules.
* * *
On the upper level of the lotus we traced the same path we had taken just below, this time finding the walls etched with quotes from the wisdom texts of the world’s various religions. And while it was something I already knew, to see those words so close to each other, to read them one after the other, just how much in common we all have was impossible to ignore.
“I wish I could bring them here,” I whisper to him before we sit to meditate. “I wish each of them could see this and understand.”
Then I closed my eyes, and thought of the man who referred me to the Gospel of John.
* * *
Throughout the lotus – and around the ashram – are the symbols representing the major world religions. Some were obviously familiar – the Cross and the Star of David. Others took a moment to recognize – those of Taoism and Sikhism. But there were two I couldn’t make out – a circle with three stars within it and a circle completely empty.
The circle with three stars, it turns out, symbolizes other known religions. Those that aren’t included in the major religions of our world, but which matter nonetheless.
The unfilled circle struck me as perhaps the most beautiful of all. It symbolizes faiths and spiritual paths as yet unknown.
Because just as the Divine is limitless, so are the ways in which humankind will connect with her. Just as we cannot know what tomorrow holds for any of us, we also cannot know how God will call us to approach him in the days to come.
Do we really believe we know all there is to know about faith and love and grace? Do we possibly believe that any rule book we draft could delineate the parameters of the Holy One?
If I am being honest, I truly believe the church could be something remarkable. I believe all of our temples and our cathedrals and our mosques and every single other house of worship could be something remarkable. If we could just stop all this stupid fighting. The evangelising. The desperate flailing as we attempt to prove our rightness, rather than simply take quiet steps closer to the Divine, together.
I used to hope we could do that. Lately, I'm just not so sure.
It seems lately that rather than keep our eyes on our own paths, we'd much rather misquote wisdom texts on the Instagram posts of strangers in a desperate attempt to prove how much more right we are.
And I can think of very few things less Divine-like that that.