Walking our faith: Who is my Jesus? (column)
The other day I was thinking about the different terms we use to portray the role that Jesus plays in our lives. There is: American Jesus, Eco-Social-Justice Jesus, Cancer Jesus, DIY Jesus, Foodie Jesus, Prosperity Jesus, Radical Jesus, I-Don’t-Want-to-Commit-to-a-Church Jesus, Angst-Jesus, and so many more.
Even the four Gospels of the Bible portray different versions of Jesus. Matthew’s gospel reads like a quickly drawn outline, a first-draft Jesus. Mark presents the Rabbinical Jesus. Luke gives us a Jesus that shares so many of our traits, we can believe that he truly became human during his brief time on Earth. And then there is my favorite, the gospel of John, metaphysical, spiritual, intellectual Jesus. The mystic who speaks in parables that are so nuanced and filled with knowing that two thousand years later we still do not understand them all.
But who is my Jesus?
I am an amateur baker. Which is a nice way of saying that I’m basically a one-trick pony with an occasional flourish of rosemary and olives. While I don’t know enough to produce loaves that match the ardor of my appetite, I’ve learned a few things from my mistakes.
Between the first rise and the moment that the dough goes into the oven, there is a moment when my efforts to shape the dough to my liking, by pulling it into a baguette or tucking it into a boule, will damage the dough’s elasticity and it will no longer resemble what it was meant to be. What I end up with is no longer bread.
I believe I face the same danger in my relationship with Jesus.
When I look out on the landscape of the many descriptions of Jesus, it feels like we want to mold him into someone who fits our needs or aspirations. When we are sick, we summon Dr. Jesus. When we run out of money, we call on Banker Jesus. Perhaps each version reflects the Jesus we need, an ever-changing reflection of our better selves. But of course, there is only one Jesus, and our limited vision allows us only a sliver of his true enormity.
I understand that Jesus became human so that we could experience a personal relationship and communion that could only be possible if we saw human-ness in him and believed that he understood our frailty.
Yet, I worry that when I see Jesus only as a provider of stuff, or a friend to pal around with, or more uncomfortably a spiritual-lover, I diminish the true sacred mystery that is due the Son of God.
When I was in college, during the Regan era, my parents attended a conservative church where Jesus was a very stern Republican who conveyed a litany of things we should not do and people we should not associate with.
In the era of Pope Francis, Jesus seems less concerned that we are divorced or gay, and more emphatic that we love one another and care for those who are poor, displaced and suffering.
Jesus speaks differently to millennial hipsters in a storefront church in Brooklyn, where they share the communion meal around a table and pass broken bread after they have blessed it and shared an informal homily.
Those words would probably sound strange to my 50-something Catholic ears that understand Jesus best through the formality of Eucharist.
The conservative church that my mother returned to, after living with me for twenty years, has changed. The 150-member robed choir is gone and so are the traditional hymns. In their place is a rock band that leads the congregation in contemporary choruses.
But it’s also changed in a more important way: it has become a church that serves its community, its elderly, its homeless, as well as the young families that are now its majority.
Other than complaining to the new pastor that the band’s drummer is too enthusiastic, my mother is very content there.
Of course, she is 89 years old and world-traveled. She has read her Bible and sat in prayer every day for decades, and she knows a Jesus that I cannot even imagine.
To be honest, I never gave Jesus careful consideration until recently. Yes, I accepted Jesus as my Savior and Lord. But I did not have a personal relationship with him. Although I knew that Jesus died and rose from the dead for my sins, I had not experienced his real loving presence.
Sometimes praying with Jesus feels like speaking into the wind. On a spiritual level, I understand that he is there. But on an emotional level, I am never sure that he is listening. I want to have a deep relationship with Jesus, to know that I am in his presence.
There are many moments when I am brought to tears of gratitude as I share communion during Mass. And though I am unable to experience his presence in prayer, I do not doubt his existence, or my love for him. This probably sounds like a strange confession for someone who writes a weekly faith column: Still, Jesus feels distant. I love him, but does he love me, Suzanne?
Writing this weekly faith column has radically (oh how I loath that word) changed the way I approach my religious beliefs. I want more. I have begun checking out armloads of books on faith from our Breckenridge library, pursuing Jesus in the only way my analytical mind knows how.
The books of Henri Nouwen, a priest and teacher, particularly, “The Return of the Prodigal Son,” have been helpful. I’m also drawn to memoirs of faith. Barbara Taylor Brown’s “Leaving Church,” or Krista Tippett’s “Speaking of Faith,” allow me to walk alongside another person’s journey and see how it reflects my own.
I have stopped zooming through the New Testament in Year Bible, and instead, begun reading the Gospel of John slowly, thoughtfully, carefully searching for my Jesus. If I were younger, I’d probably pursue a master’s in Divinity to give depth and other voices to my search. But in the end, perhaps my Jesus will only be found with years of prayer.
This essay doesn’t have a conclusion. I hope it never will. Finding my Jesus is an expedition I’ve just begun and which will consume the rest of my life. I hope to share part of that journey with you.
Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson writes a weekly religion column for the Summit Daily News and is the author of ten books. You can find her at http://www.suzanneelizabeths.com
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