Here’s a little different approach to Valentine’s Day. This one for me.
I am a follower of Jesus. Admittedly, not a great one but perhaps a little better than a few years ago.
I did not so much choose Christianity as this religion chose me. Raised, as I was, in a Christian home, I could no more not be Christian than a child raised in a Muslim home in a middle eastern country would likely be anything other than a Muslim.
At a very early age, I followed in the tradition of my family’s “brand of Christianity” and made what their tradition called a “profession of faith.” That meant I walked down a church aisle at invitation time, agreed with everyone else that I was a rotten sinner deserving of the flames of eternal hell – whatever any of this could REALLY mean to a seven year old – but, while tainted with “original sin” I, too, was a grateful believer in Jesus who, for some inconceivable reason that few then as now could ever intelligently explain, died on a cross to save me from the pit itself. In other words, about all I knew is that, by making this kind of “profession of faith,” I was doing the necessary thing to guarantee I would avoid hell and make heaven when I died. Little else mattered then, as little else matters now, to those who still cling to this outworn and outlived particular “brand of Christianity.”
Today, it is this “brand” I was taught to believe was the “right” brand, even the “purest” brand of believing that I can no longer accept. Instead, I follow the pathway of Jesus, as best as I understand it, and it is no longer so I may avoid hell and live forever in heaven. For me, heaven, at least as most preach and teach it today, as I once preached and taught it myself, is only necessary for those who find the present intolerable and some imaginary future preferable.
Following the Christ path for me is the process of entering “heaven” now – the process of becoming more and more grounded in this present moment – which, for me, is the real heaven. It is that heaven in which Jesus lived, as well as countless other spiritual masters in countless other traditions.
Following Jesus is learning, as he himself said, “To be in the world, not of the world” (Jn 17:14-15). It is becoming so connected to the “Ground of Being,” as Paul Tillich put it, one discovers him-or herself to be in an uninterrupted state of Divine consciousness – that is, a perpetual state of awareness of God herself…a state of human existence most beautifully demonstrated by Enoch himself who, as describe in the book, The Enoch Factorhttp://www.stevemcswain.com/publications/the-enoch-factor/, mastered “the sacred art of knowing God.” History remembers this mythical man, Enoch, as one who, different from virtually all his contemporaries, “walked with God” (Genesis 5).
My ambition is to learn to walk with God. I need no more heaven than this. In fact, when I look back on my life, I’m pretty sure that when I felt the need for something more, it was only ever because I did not feel the Eternal Someone now.
So following Jesus is my “calling,” my ambition or desire. You might even say, the love of my life. I have no interest anymore in defending or debating with others that our “brand of Christianity” is more right than everyone else’s. To do so is madness.
Instead, for me, I want to consciously follow Jesus…that is to say, to be aware and grounded in this present moment – what William Blake described as seeing the “world in a grain of sand…heaven in a wild flower…or eternity in an hour.” I wish to hold “infinity in the palm of my hand.” This, for me, but perhaps not for you, is the spiritual path I follow. And, it is rewarding me…transforming me…and bringing my awareness more and more into the inner sanctuary where God is – that sanctuary Saint Paul described as “the Temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
I do not believe any longer, however, – not in any way, shape or form, in fact – that God is a Christian. There is no religion that could ever fully grasp the Mystery we call God. The moment I think I have God contained in my understanding – and, by that I mean, whenever I may feel as if I have the most complete and perfect understanding of God – you can be sure, my friend, I know nothing of God. This is perhaps, and has been, Christianity’s greatest error.
It is also why I am free today to embrace the truth about God I may find in other religions – religions I regularly study.
You think this is heretical?
Then you, my friend, are only admitting how little you know of your own Christian history and tradition. Some of our most revered Christian saints have been astute students, even practitioners, of other religions.
Ever heard of Thomas Merton? Henri Nouwen? Mother Teresa? I suspect you have. Well, it was Mother Teresa who said, “I love all religions. But, I’m in love with my own.”
I’ve adopted her response for those Christian critics of my own who similarly charged her with being too comfy with other religions.
So, on this Valentine’s Day, here’s a little something different to think about – if you are so fortunate, as indeed I am, to have a special person with whom you share life – why not BE CHRIST to him or her, if you’re a Christian. If a Buddhist, why not BE THE Buddha to the person you love? Everyone else, too.
Or, if you are a professing atheist, why not practice being completely present to this person with whom you are privileged to journey through life?
What BETTER Valentine could you give?
What more could he or she need from you?
What more “eternity” could you ever need?