The question is, was he ever?
Even Jesus said that he didn’t come for the people who already claimed to have found the way, but for those who were lost, wandering, without the great shelter and shield of the religious institution.
Even though I’ve had a “sketchy” relationship with religion, (some would say that’s healthy) I became a pastor of a Christian church. Somehow, because of all my searching, I discerned that religion, at its core, held a mystery within that defied the human desire to control everything unknown. I discovered that religion shared some of the same snares as politics or patriarchy or any system that has a hi-er-archy. Religion can be used, just like any other system, as an avenue for greed, power and corruption. I just got caught up in that net.
In my own long, circuitous journey of healing from religion-induced pain, I learned that God is pretty wild and untamed, regardless of how we feel about it, and very often defies any container that religion (or anyone– agnostic, spiritualist, new age, etc.) seeks to squeeze God into or out of. That makes the pastorate quite adventurous and also quite freeing to know that (on my best days) I get to play in the field of this wild and untamed God.
The other thing I have learned recently in my travels is that we live in a Christ haunted world. As Richard Rohr says: “Christ is just another word for everything.”
I ended up in United Methodism, not that it’s better or worse than any other brand, it certainly has it’s faults, but we do have a unique relationship with Native Americans. We have an entire Native American division devoted to exploring that unique kinship between our faiths. Last fall, this curiosity led me, by way of invitation, to a Lakota Sundance ceremony in New Mexico. On the side of a very high mountain in the “Blood of Christ” mountain range, wearing my long skirt and arms covered, I danced to the songs of the singers. In Lakota, they sang out “Wakan Tanka, Tunkashila” around a cotton wood tree. I felt like an eagle.
Early the next morning in the woods, feeling the chill of the air in that liminal space between sleep and waking, still in a half dream state, there came into my mind an image of Christ on a cross.
I continue to have similar experiences, always to my surprise, everywhere I go.
I visited Cherokee, NC, recently, doing some research for a book and was talking with some Cherokee women. It seems it is a common legend among various tribes that Jesus made an appearance around the time of his death over on this continent. The women told me about the Cherokee version. The legend goes that the “little people” (the spiritual beings of Cherokee lore that live in the woods) cried tears when Jesus died and these tears ended up in the form of little crosses at the bottom of Fontana Lake, hundreds have been found. Of course, there’s a scientific explanation for this but the legend is much more interesting. There are various versions of this story in other tribes.
An African woman in my church tells me that in Sierra Leone where she is from, the Muslims and the Christians all consider themselves part of the same family. The Muslims pray to be with Jesus in death, the keeper of eternal life. There is also a legend that Jesus and Mohammed had an actual conversation.
Jesus has been out in the world for a very long time, doing lots of things Christians may not even approve of very much. Alongside the mother struggling with addiction, with the young man feeling compelled to join Isis, the refugee, the immigrant, the homeless person, the rejected war veteran, the traumatized Native American. Jesus is, in fact, right there beside them, having been hung on the same cross.
We miss the whole point of Jesus when we try to pin him down and make him exclusive. Jesus simply belongs to everyone. “In him, all things hold together,” and he is the “image of the invisible God.” (Colossians 1)
The goal of religion, in its purest form, religio, is to bind the spiritual “word made flesh,” Christ presence on earth into a form we can participate in with one another. Divine love needs not only the human vessel but the vessel of the beloved community that doesn’t exist just for itself alone, but for God. With rituals and practices that make it safe for us to experience, to bind, what is unfathomable, God, if only for a brief hour or two.
I’m glad I didn’t abandon the path, because I would have missed out on all of this, the sweetness of communion, the chance to help the homeless find homes, all of us wanderers. I would have missed out on my very own healing, and the opportunity to be part of this massive healing that is taking place in the world around the hurts done in the name of God.
What would happen to a faith, or wonder of wonders, even a religion, that understood Christ as another word for everything? It might shift our understanding of the work of Christ in the world from dominance to infusion, from conformity to love, from rules and laws to simply presence and being. From scarcity to enough, from certainty to curiosity, from death to life. What if Christ really is in all and through all and another word for everything? What then?
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