Jesus Now - A Personal Influence
This page is part of the Living with Jesus Now series.
Patricia Williams has initiated our discussion designed to discern the impact of Jesus Then on our personal lives. Her short essay Jesus Now - A Personal Influence appears below. You are invited to comment by clicking on the discussion button above OR contribute your own description of how Jesus Then has influenced your life choices.
Jesus Now - A personal influence
Patricia A. Williams
Every person is different. Diverse people find various values in Jesus. Even if they develop the same list of values, some will emphasize one, others another. Moreover, even people who choose to live by the same value will embody it differently. Thus, there is not, and cannot be, a Ten Commandments for following Jesus. Each individual must work out her or his own salvation in fear and trembling.
For me, Jesus represents two concepts. One, the historical Jesus, is a man who lived in first century Galilee, whom John the Baptist baptized, who preached about the domain of God (traditionally translated "kingdom"), and whom the Romans crucified near Jerusalem about 33 CE. The other is a presence and power with us now whom we might experience as Jesus, but also as the Tao or the Buddha or other mythohistorical spiritual figures. In neither case is mine an exclusively Christian Jesus.
The historical Jesus for me is primarily a person who lived his earthly life within the domain of God, vividly aware of God's presence everywhere. And that's what he talked about â God with us, God's presence in everyday life, and especially in the lives of the poor, the dispossessed, and the excluded. Today, Jesus would find God more in the life of a homeless homosexual â poor, dispossessed, and excluded â than in the life of a bishop who is rich in home, friends, and rituals.
Indeed, the one thing Jesus preached against was wealth, not because wealth is evil, but because it gets in the way of compassion. Moreover, wealth preoccupies us and therefore distracts our attention from the presence of God. Jesus lived as he preached, simply, among the dispossessed, with few possessions and no permanent abode of his own.
The other thing Jesus thought separated God and humanity is our overemphasis on justice. Here, justice means reciprocity, the desire for fairness that can take numerous forms including an eye for an eye. In several parables, he shows our strong desire for justice interfering with our potential for mercy. I am an expert in the theory of evolution as it applies to humanity and, along with many others in my field, I think reciprocity is an evolved characteristic, part of our evolutionary heritage that enhanced our social lives before the development of legal systems and law enforcement and now guides both in addition to governing our commerce. Morally, reciprocity is a two-edged sword. It may lead us to work for justice for others; however, it more often persuades us to demand justice for ourselves against others, without mercy. So I find Jesus' view supported by very modern arguments. The emphasis on mercy over justice is especially important where justice cannot be enacted because of past history, as in the Middle East, South Africa, and Northern Ireland today.
Jesus as a presence with us now is a power, the power of an inner experience that frees us from egocentricity and excessive concern with our own welfare. Without responding positively to this power, we alienate ourselves from other people because we care little about their well-being. If we are willing, this power develops within us more generosity and compassion than evolution, unaided, provides.
The main values that guide my life are spirituality/simplicity/silence. These are so closely related in my life they symbolize my three-in-one trinity. Silence enables me to listen for that spiritual power Jesus represents and to incarnate it. Because that power is a spirit of simplicity, I yearn for a simple life and, by some standards, live one. My other values are autonomy and learning. Autonomy is, by definition, self-rule. To be autonomous is to choose from within oneself, without external coercion or even against external coercion. Autonomy emphasizes inner-orientation rather than independence. None of us in modern society is independent. To purchase a can of tuna requires the miner, the metal worker, the can maker, the boatwright, the fisher, the canner, the trucker, the store manager, and the stocker â not to mention the logger, pulp miller, paper maker, and label designer along with the whole vast institution of modern finance. The power within us cannot make us independent, but it can free us from craving othersâ approval, enabling us to be internally motivated and guided.
Our modern idea of education is not a value derived from Jesus, but in my life education has enhanced my spiritual and emotional maturity as well as my inclusiveness. I realize this is not true of everyone.
I've tried to live my values from my youth up. Some signs: I gave away almost all my belongings at age 24/5 and owned nearly nothing for the next decade until purchasing unimproved mountain land. There I built a modest house with my own hands (and some help from my friends) that is off-grid, heated with wood I cut and split myself, and lighted with solar electricity. I have lived in it for the past 26 years, in symbolic solidarity with the poor, especially with poor women who, in the developing world, are often the hewers of wood and drawers of water.
Ten years ago, I joined the Religious Society of Friends, the unprogrammed Quakers with silent Meetings. I live in silence, too, writing fulltime in my home in the mountains. The silence opens space for awareness of God; attunes me to the still, small voice within; and lets me feel the light touch of Godâs hand on my life.
For education, I earned a Ph.D. and write in the interdisciplinary area of science and religion. To stay abreast of my fields, I must learn continuously.
My spiritual discipline is two-fold. It is intellectual, as I study the Bible (traditionally one of God's books) and nature as science describes it (God's other book). Because I don't think God wrote the first, I don't try to fit them together. However, I do think the Bible is a collection of records of human efforts to live in the domain of God, one of many such collections. It is also indispensable for understanding the historical Jesus.
My other spiritual discipline is silence. Every morning (except Saturday, customarily a day off work!), I devote some time to silently waiting for God to speak to me rather than telling God whatâs best, as traditional prayer often does. Sundays I gather with others in the silent Quaker assembly to await awareness of God's presence, to listen for the divine voice, and to receive spiritual guidance directly and/or through others assembled there. Outsiders say Quakers abolished baptism and communion, the two central Christian rites. True, Quakers discarded the outward forms, but they experience spiritual baptism and spiritual communion together every Sunday morning.
A pamphlet describing my own spiritual journey is available online, free for the download, at http://www.universalistfriends.org Once there, click on "pamphlets" and look for Hazardous Engagement: God Makes a Friendâor follow the link from my own website at http://www.theologyauthor.com