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.