Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Standing next to Jesus

I’ve been catching up with my blog reading and one of the themes that has been speaking to me is the question of whether I should call myself a Christian along with the related one of where Jesus is in my life. Big questions and I am still struggling with answers, although helped by reading about others’ struggles.

So I’ll start by trying to share some of the journey which has brought me to my present position. I was brought up a nominal Christian, in the Church of England, read the Bible stories, sang the hymns, went to church as a matter of course but with no real conviction. When I was about 11 years old, standing alone on the back step of our house, looking at the clouds racing across the sky above our steeply sloping garden, I had what I later learned to call a ‘transcendent experience’.

In one moment beyond time I knew that myself, everyone and everything was connected and valued in love. All that I felt and knew in that moment was God and God was everywhere, in past, present and future, in all religions, all people, everything.

I did not know what to do with this experience. The only person I told was my school speech and drama teacher who gently listened to my confusion and gave me books on mysticism to read which helped me to realise that I was not alone in my experience and saved me from thinking that I was special or singled out.

So I knew that God was real, but I was not at all sure where Jesus fitted in to the equation for me. I certainly did not think that I needed organised religion or any kind of church community. The Christians that I knew seemed far too narrow in their belief for me to belong with them. I carried my conviction of true religion inside me but rarely let it connect with the way I lived my life.

And then, 30 years ago, I encountered Quakers when I went to work in Friends House Library in London. I found people who were living a faith without dogma day by day and I discovered Meeting for Worship. That was the real revelation because here I found again the God that I knew and God, the Inward Teacher, was speaking to me, within myself and through the meeting. When I began to listen I knew that I had to change, to commit myself to Quakerism and to act in faith. Of course there’s a lot more to this story and I will try to write more later, but for now I’ll try and go with the questions I began with.

Having become a Quaker, did I become a Christian? Well I believe that that is the journey I am on but many of my fellow-Quakers, and certainly many others who identify themselves as Christians, would disagree and I have to engage with that.

And what about Jesus? About 6 years ago I went to a performance of 'The Mysteries' at the National Theatre – three plays in one day. These modern versions of medieval mystery plays told the story of the world from creation to judgment with actors and audience mixed together in one space. Somehow during the crucifixion scene I found myself standing behind the actor playing Jesus who was carrying his cross. I suddenly felt a real connexion with the real Jesus and almost reached out to touch him. I knew then that my Inward Teacher was there too. It was an intense experience and again I have told very few people until today. I am still trying to make sense of what I felt and how standing next to Jesus could affect my life.

10 comments:

Robin M. said...

Thank you.

Joe G. said...

Yes, I agree with Robin M. Thank you. It's the kind of experiences that you describe that remind me of my own experiences with the Inward Teacher and Jesus.

Liz Opp said...

I am still trying to make sense of what I felt and how standing next to Jesus could affect my life.

I don't believe in Jesus in this way, but I relate directly with how standing next to God--having God with me and not above me--has affected me at a deep level.

Blessings,
Liz, The Good Raised Up

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Bruce Bishop said...

Gil... just read your blog for the first time and was really moved by your vulnerability in sharing, and the two experiences of God that you mentioned.

I'm really drawn to what you must have been feeling, when you found yourself reaching out to the Jesus figure. In my experience, as a Christ-centered Quaker (I don't like to call myself a 'Christian'... especially here in America) that same desire to reach out comes from a deep place... a place that I suspicious is already centered in Jesus... perhaps that longing was initiated by God inside me... and I am simply responding to God's initiation. God's initiative and my own response/longing often seem so meshed.

Thanks again, Gil.
Bruce
Barclay Press Emerging Writers

Nancy A said...

What's a Christian? I guess this is the fundamental question at the root of this posting.

Is a Christian a person who believes in the salvation theology developed by the early church and centred around Jesus's crucifixion? Or is a Christian a person who follows the teachings and example of Jesus in a deeply committed way?

Is a Christian a person who believes Jesus was God in a trinity kind of way, or a person who believes that Jesus was a divinely inspired teacher?

I find I don't connect much with early church teachings about Jesus, especially those that relied on ideas of sacrifice, redemption, and original sin. These ideas seen terribly at odds with Jesus's teachings. For me, the teachings and examples have to come first, and everything else has to somehow fit around them.

Just because if Jesus had really believed in those other things, he would surely have mentioned them. Or at least, he would not have promoted ideas that argued against them.

I call myself a Christian because I find that the teachings and example of Jesus are far more compelling than that of any other religious leader I've read (except possibly the Buddha).

Claire said...

Hello there - I just came across your blog for the first time through www.quakerquaker.org.

Nancy raises the very question that came to my mind: What's a Christian?

This is something I too have been wrestling with. Thank you, Gil, for sharing your experiences.

Love and Light,
Claire