What about Christ?
June 6, 2017 § 2 Comments
Jesus, the Christ, and I—Part 7
So I’ve had these experiences of Jesus. But what of the Christ? What of Jesus Christ?
In the name Jesus Christ, Christ has become a kind of surname denoting Jesus as the Son of God. In traditional Christian theology, Jesus was already God when he incarnated, was always God, and so there would be no real distinction between the Jesus I have come to know and love from the gospels and the Christ, the one anointed by the Father to become the savior of humanity.
In my experience, however, there is a distinction. First of all, the Jesus I know from the (Synoptic) gospels is a much more complex and multi-faceted figure than Jesus-Christ-as-savior, which seems to me to be mostly a later Pauline mutation or emphasis.
More importantly, however, I have never experienced Jesus Christ as my savior, let alone as the savior of the human species. But I feel that I have experienced Christ. Or rather, that’s what I have chosen to call it. In none of my experiences of the Christ has the Christ come to me with a name tag on, clearly identifying himself/herself/itself to me as Jesus Christ.
As for my transcendental experiences of Jesus, I have projected onto them material from my unconscious that gives him the visual aspect of the kind of stereotype common in popular religious pictures, one that is decidedly European looking, not Semitic. I cannot know, in fact, whether I was really experiencing Jesus Christ, the resurrected and divine spirit of Jesus. But something transcendental was definitely happening. Some kind of spiritual, or even religious, connection was manifesting.
So also with the gathered meetings for worship I’ve experienced. Something transcendental yet real is happening in the gathered meeting. I know this because we collectively, psychically share the experience of it.
I call that something the Christ, the spirit of Christ. I call the medium in which these collective psychic experiences take place in worship the Christ. I call the emergent phenomenon of shared religious experience the Christ.
Why the Christ? Since these experiences come to me without a name, I am free to name them according to any criteria. I could call it brahman from my background in yoga. Or the Buddha-mind, or some such.
However, because I feel called into the Quaker way as my path, my tradition, and my community, I choose to use its criteria. Because thousands of Quakers before me have already testified to the Christ as the Spirit in whom they worship, in spirit and in truth, I embrace their testimony. They testify that we were first gathered in the spirit as a people of God by Christ and that we have been sustained by him ever since.
It seems to me nonsensical and deeply disrespectful to reject their testimony. Who am I to insist that my experience is superior to theirs (or rather, that my non-experience nullifies theirs). Or that their experience is something other than what they testify, some projection of their unconscious, say.
On the other hand, my experience does not correspond to theirs in some fundamental ways. Early Friends and their spiritual descendants equated this inward experience, which I call the Christ, with Jesus the Nazorean, with the figure in the gospels. They experience him as a him, not as an it, as a discreet spiritual entity with personhood, capable of relationship, who has a name and a story. I’ve not had that experience.
I don’t reject the possibility of such an entity. In fact, my own metaphysical background and leanings and personal experience suggest that “angels” do exist, discreet spiritual entities capable of relationship. I have my own ideas about what’s going on there, but my point is that I suspect that Jesus Christ does exist in the forms that early Friends and others have experienced. I just have no experience of him as such myself.
At the same time, I suspect that, just as I have, these Friends were projecting onto their experiences material from their own unconscious minds after all (and perhaps from their movement’s and their society’s collective unconscious, also—I am this much of a Jungian). How could they not?
I hold both views at the same time without paradox or contradiction. Jesus Christ is real, and at the same time, the experience of the Christ as a spirit by a person or a by a community is an emergent phenomenon that is shaped in part by social, psychological, and cultural forms and norms. I call it “emergent” in the way that harmonies emerge when two compatible notes are struck; or more aptly, perhaps, the way DNA expresses differently based on the bio-chemical micro-environment, so as to make even identical twins with the very same DNA quite different people in some ways.
This is just a metaphor, of course. The spiritual reality is quite a mystery. Quakers experience a transcendent spiritual reality in the gathered meeting, and occasionally in their own spiritual journeys. We may call this reality different things, but we share the experience of it.
Some Friends—many Friends, I suspect—think that it doesn’t really matter what you call it. I think it does. And I call it the Christ.
Why do I think it matters? And why the Christ? Why do I side with the weight of our tradition? Why make this choice as a matter of faith?
Because the micro-environment of the meeting for worship and the ecosystem of a Quaker meeting in which the Spirit manifests, these affect the expression of a community’s spiritual DNA. And our movement’s DNA is the Christ and the ChristianQuaker tradition.
I want to go into this in my next post.