I would like to share a little story. It is a story that has been told before but does not get told often enough. I am not certain that it happened this way but I know that it is true.
A couple of thousand years ago a baby boy was born in the northern part of Israel, in the area of the Galilean Sea. Most people would say that he got a bad start in life. As an oppressed Jew in a country that was run by a tyrant under the auspices of the Roman Empire, he was born into very hard life.
As a Galilean Jew he was a minority of a minority and under the best of circumstances would have suffered the worst kinds of oppressive abuse in an already oppressive society. The religious leaders of his time were co-opted as they served two masters, the Romans and their temple and they would have been little help in the struggle for his people to survive.
More than likely he also suffered the consequences of being considered a part of the mamzer caste-those of unknown fathers or what today we would call illegitimate or bastards. It was considered a low caste within a low class in those days
But from the beginning this child seemed different. He seemed to have an innate wisdom that was far beyond his years. This nature was bothersome to many, ignored by others. But a few were attracted to him and knew from the beginning that he was special. No one knew why for certain.
But even as a young boy while he was growing up people went to him for his advice.
Maybe it was his hard life and his experience with prejudice …or maybe it was the deep spiritual practices he incorporated into his daily life…or maybe it was the inspiration of his teacher, the one they called the Baptist…or maybe it was a path that had already been written into his DNA.
Whatever it was, this young man seemed exceptionally sensitive toward others. He was intuitive and interested in people and tended to look them in the eye, as if he really cared and was interested. He seemed concerned about issues beyond survival.
At some point like all great spiritual teachers throughout the ages, he had series of “peak” or spiritual experiences. One time however, he experienced something he had never experienced before. Over the years he would reluctantly try and explain it to others but there were no adequate words. Everything, as he had understood it before, had melted and he began to reformulate his reality. Whatever happened, however, was obvious to others.
His began to talk about things differently. He seemed more content in spite of his difficult life. He seemed happier, even merry at times. People were attracted to him for reasons that they did not understand. Other realized that he seemed to exude sincere love and compassion that was different. Those who were the closest to him realized that he had somehow changed, and they asked him what had happened.
With some hesitancy, he tried to explain that he had experienced something he might have called the “Kingdom of God” or a Godly Realm. Some think a better translation in Aramaic might be, the Realm of Sacred Unity.
But this did not satisfy his friends. “This Kingdom or Realm of God… where is that? Is it in the Temple?”
“No,” he would answer. “It is everywhere. It is above you. It is behind you. It is within you.”
“When you make the two One, and when you make the inner as the outer and outer as the inner, and the above as the below…then you will experience the Realm of Sacred Unity…”
“But how can that be?” his friends would ask. “Can I see it or feel it or measure it?” they asked very agitated.
He would look at them with compassion and obvious love in his eyes and try and explain to them that you cannot understand it until you find it. And when you do find it, you will want to celebrate.
Most of the times his friends and the curious would wander off confused and frustrated. But now and then one or two would linger and ask him more questions about how to experience this mysterious Realm. Slowly a small group formed that wanted him to teach them how to find this place called the Realm of Sacred Unity.
And so he began to teach “the way.” First he said you must trust the power of the Spirit that flows through your life, like the wind that flows through the trees. If you do not seek it while you are alive you will die and not know that you are One.
“What else” he was asked. Maybe most important you must learn to be still. Our scriptures tell us we must be still to know or experience God or to experience Sacred Unity. “But we pray every day,” they might respond. And he would say, “Yes but first be still.”
“And then what must we do,” they asked.
“You must repent. If you have caused harm to yourself or to others, you must accept responsibility for your behavior or thoughts and make a commitment to change your ways, change the course of your life.”
And if you want to cleanse your heart and free your head, you must forgive not once, not twice but seventy times seven.”
And when you have forgiven all who you can think of so that you are free of the poison in your heart, then judge another no longer.
And when you no longer judge others, you will be free to offer love and compassion like God offers such love. And when you can offer such love without judgment or conditions you will find the doorway into the Realm of Sacred Unity that you seek. For true compassion, with a pure heart is the doorway to an experience of Sacred unity.
But to open that door, you must be also be generous with your heart and your possessions, as if you have abundance of both. For if you live as if you have abundance you will experience abundance. Do not worry about what you have or what you will wear but be conscious about what you can give.
And then he looked at each one of them slowly with an unusual stern look. And he said;
“When you have mastered these practices you will be ready for the last two. They can be the most challenging and should not be done unless you have mastered all the others.”
And when they all got quiet he said: “Every so often you are presented with the opportunity to help another who is in danger or is suffering. Do not pass by that opportunity even when it may be a risk to your life or your livelihood.
When someone is suffering at the hands of another and we do nothing we have lost our way, our faith and our experience of the Realm. However when you do take that action, without judgment or anger, even when it puts you at risk, you will experience a Oneness and sense of Connectedness to the Presence that you have never experienced before.”
His new disciples shuddered with trepidation although with some excitement.
And then he smiled and chuckled and said:
“And finally, I beseech you; do not take yourself so seriously. Learn how to celebrate and laugh. Celebration and laughter are God’s lubricants of life. It will come naturally when you have entered the doorway into the Realm of Sacred Unity and your laughter will come from the deepest place in your belly and will tickle your heart.”
Then he sat down.
Now as time went by some of his new disciples began to practice the path. They began to have powerful life changing experiences. They began to see why he had taught the way the he had. They began to understand what he had told them. As they began to become freer and fulfilled, others noticed and wanted to have the same experience.
And so the teacher continued to teach but most could not understand this strange behavior. But some did understand as they tried to practice it. And these students realized that this rabbi was very special. So special that they started telling stories about him; and because of the suffering of their people, they began to think that maybe he was the one who going to lead them out of their perilous lives; that maybe he was the one they had hoped for now for over 500 years. And people began to talk about a new messiah and a new Kingdom.
And so the authorities became afraid that he would cause them problems. When they came to question him, his friends and followers wanted him to fight back. He refused but would deny nothing. And he was killed by the authorities for they feared him.
But they could not kill his spirit. They could not kill the love that his followers had for him and that he has shared. And so his story has been told for two thousand years…sort of.
I share this story today because quite frankly, it is not told often enough and even sadder, it is seldom lived or modeled. We have buried this simple but powerful story in creedal and tribal divisions; we have disguised its meaning in fancy robes and ecclesiastical symbols of power; we have hidden the truth in eschatological and scriptural debates; we created and used the story as one of fear rather than love; we’ve done everything in our power to ignore the path because it means letting go… not holding on; it means having a willingness to become vulnerable instead of powerful.
But I believe that we are living in a new age and a new time…when more people are ready, as Ekhart Tolle writes, “to let go of identification with form, dogma and rigid belief systems in order to discover the original depth that has been hidden in our spiritual tradition. People are hungry for a path that leads them to an experience of the Sacred Unity or of the Holy…as some would prefer to call it. And guess what? We have one. It is a path that can take us from theory to practice…from practice to being; from want to fulfillment. It only begs for teachers and practitioners.
Bishop Spong writes in one of his more recent books, Jesus for the Non-Religious; “The call of the God experienced in Christ is simply a call to be all that each of us is-a call to offer, through the being of our humanity, the gift of God to all people by building a world in which everyone can live more fully, love more wastefully and have the courage to be all that they can be…That is how we live out the presence of God. God is about living, about loving and about being.”
“God is about living, about loving and about being.”
I believe this last line is the one that those of us who call ourselves progressive, open, enlightened, evolutionary Christians need to hear and heed. Maybe if we become followers instead of “believers” and teachers rather than debaters, we might become people of the way once again.