As the American holiday season commences I am reminded of a childhood memory from a sunday school teacher insisting we “remember the reason for the season” instead of focusing on the stuff the kids in the class prayed to God for: a new Nintendo game, Barbie’s post office, a billiards and air hockey table, board games, a trip to Disney World… Of course her sentiment hasn’t been lost as many Christians whine that our capitalistic society has run amok in regards to Christmas particularly because of this focus by children and adults that it is all about the “joy” you SHOULD feel opening those gifts on the morning of 25th. I personally, don’t have a strong memory of that Christmas morning joy, most of my memories of the day are sidelined by the joy of eating mama’s fresh baked cinnamon rolls mixed with the dread of cleaning up the wrapping paper, helping to cook the family meal while the young ones played or trying to ignore those that were upset by the lack or absence of what they really wished was hiding under the tree. After all the fuss I was always left with… “Is this all?” Was the celebration of the birth of Christ really only about plastic toys or uncomfortable family time or going to church and watching terrible enactments of a fictional play?
So last week I picked up The Mystical Life of Jesus by Slyvia Browne in an attempt to add some substance to my ‘holiday cheer.’ This is not the first time I’ve read agnostic opinions about Christianity or books by physics, but it was the first time that those two qualities came together. The book was a bit repetitive and at times over-scriptural but overall extremely refreshing. It moved me to open up to the idea that I never stopped being a follower of Christ, even though I assumed I had, after some college ‘friends’ insisted that I would end up in hell for all of my questioning and inquiry in other faith traditions. I realize now my disdain for Christianity never really included Christ himself and the teachings he shared with Jews of his day (particularly when you read the original Aramaic, as much was lost/changed in the translation to Greek, Latin and then English. My disdain comes from a intuitive response to the political takeover of the religion by the Roman Catholic Church and the use of it as a way to FEAR people into obeying law (and paying taxes).
Browne offers a relatively human perspective of Jesus (although she does believe that he was also divine, a child of God like the rest of us. But as a physic she also brought the larger perspective of an extremely advanced non-physical Jesus choosing to come to Earth and bring a message of our real nature and how to live with one another in peace. According to Browne, Jesus never talked about about hell, damnation, the need for salvation or human original sin. All of that was added 300+ years later in Rome as the editors of the Bible decided what books and messages were needed to help control and enlarge the efforts of Rome. What Jesus did speak of was loving those in need, showing compassion, being of good heart with forgiveness and grace and a God of love, an extremely opposing idea at the time when the Jewish faith described a God of wrath and retribution.
I also appreciate that Brown offers an insight of where Jesus prepared before he began teaching and drawning crowds in olive groves. She says he traveled to Turkey, Egypt, India and Greece to learn ancient traditions of Buddihism, Hinduism, Egyptian mysticism and others. He read and talked with other believers acknowledging the similarity within these faiths and finding the beauty in how they were practiced, particularly in India, side-by-side with respect and honor. I don’t believe there was ever a conflict in his mind about the ability of different religions to live among one another. It is sad that that is not how the religion named about him would turn out.
What I’m left with after reading is the gift of perspective. The value of understanding the evolving nature of this religion and how it has shifted and changed throughout its 2000 year history to reflect the level of consciousness of the society that practiced it. I feel fortunate to live in a time and place where I am free to question the religion of my birth and have access to other resources, books, internet sites to gain clarity about what it is that I believe. I am thankful for my curiosity and desire to share my insight with those around me. Perhaps my spiritual journey will spark a question in you, to learn a little more about what you say you believe and perhaps reflect it more deeply in your daily activities.
That is the prayer for myself. And I imagine it will sustain me even beyond the holidays.