As a Spiritual Director, I’m on the lookout for “fake Jesus.”
Whether during the very first session or sometime later through conversation, Ignatian contemplation or other kinds of guided prayer, the Jesus that a person has internalized arises.
Remember, a person doesn’t have to be a Christian to have an image of Jesus that dwells within them, impacting the way they think about or view anything Jesus-related.
Our image of Jesus, like our image of God, matters.
This image is often pieced together in childhood. Early paper cutouts with fuzzy backs stuck to flannel boards, the voice and actions of a parent, pastor, or Sunday School teacher, experiences in Vacation Bible School, childhood books and pictures...
In fact, it appears that even the Gospel writers may have pieced together a “Jesus” that didn’t always align with the authentic Jesus. Stephen Mitchell in his book, The Gospel According to Jesus: A New Translation and Guide to His Essential Teachings for Believers and Unbelievers, reveals how the early church writers included not only words and actions that Jesus likely said and did (since he didn't write anything down himself), BUT they also included words and actions they and their community needed him to say or do to fit their own beliefs!
If what “Jesus” says is in opposition to the authentic Jesus’ main teachings (especially loving God and your neighbor as yourself), there’s a good chance the writer is making Jesus in his own image. This same “making-Jesus-in-our-own-image” and having him align with our own beliefs is on blatant display this political season!
Now rather than being threatened by Mitchell’s idea, I find it’s helpful in developing skills in discernment. Remember, Scripture is “living” which means it “speaks” to us as we wrestle with it (which is to join in the lineage of the literal name of Israel!). It changes as we change and grow. Try living with a particular text, a story, a single Scripture for a month and notice how it changes (& how it changes you)! There is no end to new and deeper insights.
Back to our images of Jesus…these images are rarely questioned.
When an internal voice is associated with Jesus, a person automatically thinks it’s Jesus!
So rather than simply agreeing with them, I listen to the person describe their interaction (always keeping in the back of my mind Jesus’ authentic teachings and his nature as revealed by his authentic teachings). Sometimes I’ll hear them say things like “Jesus has to knock me upside my head to get my attention.” If during a guided prayer, a door or a place of darkness often appears, “Jesus” will tell them not to look or go through it, to only focus on the light.
Curiosity is helpful here. I’ll ask, “Whose voice does Jesus’ remind you of?” or “Why don’t you go back into your imagination and simply observe Jesus for a moment, what do you see?”
Every single time, there is surprise.
The response is often:
“My whole life I thought it was Jesus’ voice I was hearing but it was actually my father’s!”
"Oh wow, now that I'm looking closer, He looks like a flannel board Jesus. Kind of flimsy, not able to open the door.”
“Jesus doesn’t really have much substance, he’s ghost-like, but as I watch he’s becoming more human.”
And when Jesus becomes more human, more of his authentic self, they experience His great tenderness and strength. In doing so, their own tenderness and strength is called forth.
With this Jesus, they find they are able to open doors and enter into places of darkness they never thought they could. With this Jesus, they are able to love the parts of themselves and the people they never thought possible.
In other words, in coming in contact with the authentic Jesus, they are able to love their neighbor as they love themselves!
Everywhere I look
there is clutter
Whether inside or outside
Yes, inside or outside
Do you work
to contain, clean,
remove and improve it?
Or do you accept
such a state?
all I see is
For those who have eyes to see, wisdom and spiritual nourishment are available to us everywhere, flowing through all religions, not just our own.
Yet we may remain blind due to fear instilled in us early on about other religions by well-meaning adults.
Rather than feel threatened, what if you allowed yourself to be curious like a child? I wonder if you, too, might discover your life enriched through other religions’ theological truths.
The words of the Tao Te Ching have been especially meaningful to me. I have read portions of this short 6th century “Book of the Way” credited to the Chinese sage, Lao Tzu, nearly every day for years.
In it, one reads about what it is like to be in harmony with the Tao (the Way).
And one is invited to be aligned with “Reality As It Is” in such a way that, like Jesus the Christ, one humbly becomes the Way. In the language of Christian mystics, this is called “union with God.”
Last night, I opened my pocket edition and saw my favorite passage staring back at me:
“Do you have the patience to wait
Several years ago, a very murky, even scary, situation came up that required careful discernment as to the way forward. Trying to figure out what to do, I was reminded of Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.”
I was also reminded of this passage from the Tao Te Ching.
So I grabbed an old Mason jar and large spoon, put on my raincoat, and went outside.
My kids were standing at the window watching with curiosity as I scooped sand from the sandbox and mud from the ground and put it in the jar while the rain kept pouring down. Then I came back inside, filled the jar with water, sealed and shook it, then placed it on top of our television cabinet announcing, “When the mud settles, then I’ll make a decision.”
They asked, “How long will it take?”
“I have no idea,” I told them, “but it will eventually clear. And the process can’t be rushed.”
What I watched externally started taking place within me…very slowly.
The anger, fear, expectations, adrenaline, helplessness, judgments, confusion, all started to settle. After a week, the sediment gave way to clarity. I could finally access “the mind of Christ” (“the Spirit within”) that is always there but can be hard to detect when my water is muddy.
Surprisingly, or maybe not, the right action that arose was non-action (a theme of the Tao Te Ching!). Even though everything in me wanted to defend myself, I knew I needed to stay silent and trust God. It was and still is the right action in this particular situation.
How about you? Have you allowed yourself to receive wisdom and spiritual nourishment from other religions and traditions? If not, why? If so, what have you discovered? How has your faith changed or deepened?
If you’d like to, but don't know where to start, I suggest the pocket edition of the Tao Te Ching!
My daughter started a family ritual when the coronavirus quarantine first began...watching the 5 seasons of the BBC's Merlin on Netflix together.
We were not allowed to binge the show. She had us spread it out over five months (a show like this needs to be savored!). And we had to wait a couple of weeks to watch the very last episode, for she explained how she needed to mourn the end of the whole series first.
It wasn't just her, all four of us really got into the story-line and characters.
Throughout the show, we watched how young Merlin (who would become "the greatest sorcerer ever to walk the earth" according to the Arthurian legends) demonstrated such humility, it was mind-boggling. So many times we wanted him to take the credit he was due! So many times he allowed himself to be the fool, his wisdom remaining hidden.
What inspired his Christ-like devotion as servant to Arthur? What stirred his soul to seek to believe and bring out the best in him with little regard for self-promotion? Why would he choose to empty himself of his status known to the few with magic but unknown to the many with power?
"Some men are born to plow fields, some live to be great physicians, others to be great kings. Me? I was born to serve you, Arthur. And I'm proud of that. And I wouldn't change a thing."
Perhaps when we have a sense of why we're on this earth (however humble and hidden it may appear) we begin to see through Merlin's eyes. Each of us "has magic" after all.
I am still in awe after a session of Spiritual Direction (even after 17 years!). It thrills me how the time together has little to do with wisdom I might share and everything to do with calling forth the God-given wisdom of the individuals themselves. The insights they need come out of their own lives with the sound and tone of their own voice. Watching it happen is magical.
Yes, I was born to serve others as a Spiritual Director, a Servant to Wisdom within each person who sits with me. And I'm proud of that. And I wouldn't change a thing.
Have you considered how what you're viewing and listening to is impacting your inner and outer world?
It doesn't take long to identify those ingesting one particular news outlet. Rather than creative conversation, the topics brought up are a repetition of the latest headlines and talking points (complete with the most recent insults). Rather than a wellspring of dialogue possibilities, it's more of a sinkhole--conversation erodes then collapses.
Seeing the impact of incessant intake of news during this politically charged season is easy, but what about the other channels and sites? What about Hallmark, for instance?
Sometimes a lovely surface is hiding a soon-to-be sinkhole.
Now before you roll your eyes, let me explain.
In the past year I started noticing my chronic dissatisfaction.
Nothing and no one was living up to expectations. And guess what? I realized that the Hallmark Now channel that we had a subscription for was a primary trigger!
Every time I watched a movie or binged on a series, my idealism would be inflamed.
Seeing those perfect little towns with their perfect flowers, lawns, and people would stir my own compulsive drive for perfection. Each show would begin a subconscious comparison of my life to the idealized Hallmark version and my house and spouse always came up short.
One day my daughter and I were watching a show when she said, "I can hardly watch this stuff anymore. It's supposed to be set in the old West and yet everyone is wearing makeup and their clothes never have any dirt on them! It's not real." She was right. It was not real.
And it was tempting me to strive for something other than life.
Real life comes from accepting reality as it is (and the people found there), mess and all.
So I canceled it.
And much to my surprise, the chronic dissatisfaction dissipated! It has brought much relief to my inner world (and to my family!).
Who knew that a channel that seems so innocent and warm-hearted, would turn out to cause so much inner and outer distress?!
What are you watching and listening to?
Be curious. How is it really impacting you? How might it be influencing the way you view those around you?
Is it time to change the channel, click out, or cancel the subscription?
I told a friend the other day that as more political signs go up around me, the angrier I become. Most assuredly I wouldn’t be as angry if they aligned with my own ideology…how telling!
My reaction reminds me of the immense draw to live on the level of agreement.
Do I agree or disagree? If the latter, criticism comes quickly followed by detaching from the author, politician, doctor, Facebook friend, family member, neighbor…write them off…case closed, act as if everything is fine.
But this kind of dissociation never works for me in the long run. It's not case closed. Pretending, ignoring, and stuffing feelings ultimately turns into back pain and headaches which is not loving myself (which then leads to the inability to truly love my neighbor). See last week's post for more on loving oneself.
The growing rift, polarization, and lack of neighborliness leads me to ask, “Who is my neighbor?”
I can’t help but think of Jesus’ parable of an enemy coming to one’s rescue in a time of need (see The Good Samaritan). Or his words in the famous Sermon on the Mount,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…" Matthew 5: 43-44
Ugh. How do you actually do this?
Realizing that we see our own reflection in the faces of others—both the shadow and the light—can add to the pressure. The shadow within is hard enough to face, it can be twice as hard when I see it in the face of others (if I’m even willing to admit I do)!
Who wants to admit that the narcissism detested in someone else can be a mirror reflecting the narcissism residing within one's self? Note: This doesn’t excuse or downplay the narcissistic actions by the other.
When Jesus boldly expanded on his Jewish lineage saying that not only are our neighbors those who belong to our family/group and those on the margins of our family/group, but so are our enemies, it must have stunned his audience.
Even though it was consistent with his teachings about the Kingdom of God and his prayer that life on earth reflect life in heaven, we sadistically like the idea of some people not being included.
But the love of God includes everyone. Jesus reminds his listeners, right after telling them to love their enemies, that God sends rain for those who do right and those who do wrong. And like the moon reflects the sun, we're to reflect God.
So how do we integrate the shadow and light of others, especially that of our enemies? And why should we even try?
When it comes to why, enemy-hating takes up a lot of space in our inner world. It crowds out what is life-giving.
Jesus knew the fruit that hate bears. It depletes our inner energy and resources, crippling our ability to live a life of Love within and without.
“Hatred destroys finally the core of the life of the hater…hatred tends to dry up the springs of creative thought in the life of the hater, so that his resourcefulness becomes completely focused on the negative aspects of his environment.”
Whoever we hate holds power over us. When we release the hate, we release their power over us, and free up that energy to love. Hatred, like love, may start out small (one act or one person), but it quickly overflows into everything and everyone.
So again, what are we to do? How can we begin to release criticism, anger, and hate?
Since curiosity is helping me release the anger and criticism toward myself, I’ve been experimenting with curiosity in the shift toward loving my neighbor/enemy.
What might happen if I chose curiosity over criticism with my "neighbor"?
Another political sign went up, this time with a flag on the porch of someone I’ve never met. Going past their residence, I looked at the signage and their house with curiosity:
After a few wonderings & questions (without providing hypothetical answers!), I found my face softening and a willingness to actually have a real conversation rather than a hardening and hiding in my anger. Honestly, I was surprised.
I experimented with a friend when the conversation turned to politics and we wanted to criticize a group of people. When we shifted to curiosity, the critique faded. Surprise again!
The most recent opportunity happened when someone disagreed with my schooling choice for my kids. I asked some questions instead of focusing on defending myself. They began asking questions. We left the conversation still having differing opinions, but smiling and looking forward to future conversations.
Curiosity may be the spiritual practice for this season.
May it be a step on the path of peace, a way of wisdom, a beginning in embodying the love of God, especially toward all of those putting up political signs!
Finding yourself triggered more than usual with thoughts and feelings of rage, resentment, and judgment? I know I am.
And it's not just toward others (we'll focus on that next week)!
What are we to do with inner voices of critique and judgment, chronic dissatisfaction and frustration? How do we not let ourselves be beat up by them? Is there another way?
Jesus once summed up the entire Scriptures by saying, “'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-38)
“Loving your neighbor as yourself” is to “loving the Lord your God,” as the moon is to the sun.
The former reflects the latter.
Like the line from his prayer to the Father, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,“ Jesus teaches and prays for wholeness—inner and outer continuity, authenticity, alignment. Oneness with God, self, and neighbor.
“Loving yourself” is inextricably linked to “loving your neighbor.” Think of those best friends necklaces with two halves, both are needed to make the heart whole.
So let's begin with our part--ourselves.
Tell me, how are you loving yourself these days?
How would you characterize your inner conversations? Are they best friends necklace worthy? Is your inner landscape characterized by harmony and peace? What/who is your inner world reflecting?
Given I resonate with a One on the Enneagram, inner critique and compulsive improvement of myself (& others) along with their counterparts of rage and resentment are easily accessible. They are often lurking, looking to supplant the inner voice of Love. When that happens, I cannot relax so compulsive doing is often the result (and a red flag).
Recently, someone brought up a class series I taught a while ago and said that what continues to stick with her most was how I started every class with the invitation to be curious.
I usually write these three phrases at the top of the dry erase board or handout:
“Be curious. Be compassionate. Be aware”
Given the subject matter is designed to go deeper, I know most classes will challenge our surface-level survival self (our ego). In response, people can expect to experience resistance (and all manner of feelings). That's not bad. There's wisdom in the resistance if we look.
Given what we're presented with on a daily basis right now, there's plenty of subject matter to challenge our survival selves, isn't there?!
At any moment, fear may be triggered, or anxiety, anger, resentment, rage, envy, sadness, guilt, shame, even numbness and avoidance. Instead of harmonious, our inner world begins to look like a daily war zone where there isn't the space or ability to give and receive love since it's all about surviving the day.
What can bring peace to the inner chaos? Certainly not more "shoulds"!
Fortunately, God offers us paths of peace.
One that I've found is choosing curiosity over critique. It almost immediately relaxes inner tension, opening me to the inner voice of Love. Remember, it was Moses’ curiosity that caused him to stop what he was doing and take a closer look at the burning bush. From inside the fire, the Voice of Love spoke to him.
Try it. Be curious.
Once becoming aware of the tone, physical sensations, and triggers, then the next time you experience them, rather than continuing down the path of self-condemnation which can lead to inward or outward lashing out, pause.
Turn your compassionate gaze toward that inner burning (or numbness) and be curious:
Let's play with this concept of curiosity with ourselves. Next week we'll consider curiosity with others.
Recently my daughter started fencing.
It's been the perfect socially-distanced sport...masked, gloved, and if you come within 6 feet, you get stabbed!
Still in her uniform after practice one day, she put on her helmet, pulled out her épée, and walked outside as I sat on the porch. She began practicing her stance. Noticing it had changed since June, I asked her what she had been doing differently.
"Well, my coach said I would get tired if I was constantly holding my left arm up in a flexed position and he pointed out how I kept rising into the stance. He told me to relax my arm and settle into the stance instead."
Then off-the-cuff she added, "So don't rise to the challenge, Mom, relax into it!"
Rather than "en garde," it caught me "off guard"!
"Don't rise to the challenge, relax into it!"
Her words and the image they created have been in my mind ever since. Why?
Well how often have you heard or been taught to "rise to the challenge"?!
And are you, too, worn out from all the rising?
So let "en garde" be a reminder.
Be ready for action by relaxing into your stance. Paradoxically, this allows one to better (and more naturally) be in position to meet the challenge, whether it's with épée in hand or not.
How might you "relax into rather than rise to the challenge" today?
Kasey is a scarf, ball and club juggling spiritual director just outside of Nashville, TN. Play helps her Type-A, Enneagram 1 personality relax, creating space for poetry and other words to emerge. She also likes playing with theological ideas like perichoresis, and all the ways we're invited into this Triune dance.