Yesterday was the first New Moon of 2013, New Moon in Capricorn. In the spiritual tradition I trained in and where I was ordained, it was suggested that the New Moon before Christmas is a time when Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is very attuned to our hearts and that on that day we might say prayers to her and ask for her helps regarding our deepest concerns. And similarly the first New Moon of the year is considered a time to pray to Jesus, his spirit being especially aligned with our needs at this time. Jesus being a man who certainly created new beginnings, after all his story is written in what we call the New Testament, I always liked this idea of invoking his helps with the new intentions formed at the beginning of a new year. Over many decades I have fasted and said prayers on these days, and experienced some strong responses from the spiritual realm.
Though I resigned from that ministry in 1994, what I learned there has continued to hold immense value for me. Increasingly I am grateful and moved by the wisdom of its founder, Ann Ree Colton, in her efforts to introduce those who studied with her to the wisdom tradition in every world religion, Christianity being just one of those we studied, the Bible just one of the scriptural texts poured through and revered. She said, “Every man beats his own path to God,” and encouraged respect for any sincere approach to divinity and spirituality. Jesus was certainly not held up as the “one way” that many Christians fiercely believe.
I decided to include some friends in the ritual that I normally would conduct privately for the “Jesus New Moon” yesterday. It was a very sweet occasion. However, some of the conversation, and other recent conversations with friends, have highlighted for me the stigma around the name of Jesus; even the name evokes a similar kind of gut response that comes with mentioning groups who impose their ideas on others with violence and persecution, or at the very least with judgment and scorn toward non-believers. People don’t want to be associated with the name Jesus because of it. I understand, I deeply understand, and it makes me really sad.
I was in Jerusalem visiting the site where The Last Supper is honored, a building that is believed to be a similar construction to the one in which this event would have taken place, and approximately in the same neighborhood, when an inner event occurred that caused me to differentiate in my mind Jesus the man from the character that Christian churches constructed by that name. Our guide was a Mormon. He told the story as it is written in the New Testament about the last supper, that Jesus knew he was about to die, and that he had supper with his disciples. He spoke the mysterious words that the bread is his body and the wine his blood, and as they ate it said “This do in remembrance of me.” I was following the story which I knew “by heart” anyway and was powerfully moved reflecting upon it in that place. Then the guide said, “And that is when he established the priesthood.” I was jarred, even shocked out of my reverie, and thought “WHAT???” Where did anyone get priesthood out of that? He was having dinner with friends. He seemed to me to be telling all of those who loved him to break bread together in remembrance of him. Should not men, women, children, families, friends, small groups, large groups do this? My mind suddenly lit up with the question – where did this notion of an exclusive, celibate, authoritative mediator between spirit and other men come out of that simple story? I started to get upset, but then heard these words inwardly, “The only Jesus is the one who reveals himself in the heart.” The churchy idea of Jesus began to be eradicated for me at that time.
One of the best bumper stickers I ever saw read: “Dear Jesus, please save me from your followers.” If a person reads the stories of Jesus in the New Testament, just by themselves without explications and commentary, I think one finds that the last thing in the world that Jesus ever intended was to start a fundamentalist group who made rules and judged people according to them and were exclusive and separative. Jesus hung out with everybody and eschewed rules created by the spiritual dictates of the time, which surely got him into trouble. The people he was most critical of were the pompous, proud, overly pious church people, and those who sought to profit from religion.
I won’t say more except that I am concerned that our “savior” needs saving from the sad blight on his name created by humans and groups who use it to shame and persecute others. The simple stories in the scripture, and especially the unedited ones found in the Nag Hammadi desert as well as early gnostic and Celtic records put down before the Roman empire took over the Christian tradition, reveal a very different spiritual leader, healer and guide than the Jesus whose name now causes people’s skin to crawl when they hear it. For many, seeing a cross causes the same reaction as the swastika causes others. It’s tragic. Sad.
I love, truly, the Jesus who lives in my heart and the influence that the pure teachings and stories of him have on me. I’d love to know better how to help save his name from the reputation created by over-zealous, misguided fundamentalists. I hope that the beauty and power of his true legacy can be reclaimed and retained for the generations to come.