The Jesus Thing by Cylvia Hayes

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My spiritual journey has been anything but linear.  I was raised with a heavy-handed approach to Christianity that was judgmental, blatantly patriarchal and frankly a bit terrifying.

Out of well-intentioned concern for our immortal souls my mother would cart my little brother and me to the tiny country church near our home in the forested foothills of Washington State.   Entering the little white church, we walked between two rows of wooden, red-velvet covered pews – about ten on each side.  At the front of the church on the wall just behind the pulpit was a many times larger-than-life painting of Jesus Christ nailed to the cross with a crown of thorns pressed into his bloodied head.  It seemed to me an odd backdrop while singing upbeat tunes like, “This little light of mine” and “This is the day that the Lord has made and I will rejoice and be glad …”, etc.

The preacher did his preaching from a podium on the left side of the red-carpeted stage just beneath the bloodied Christ.  He was an aging thin, slightly stooped white man.  Long, sparse ribbons of gray hair hung from his mostly bald, pink and brown mottled head.  When he really got going with one of his hell-fire sermons spit would fly from his mouth and his large Adam’s apple would leap up and down.  Suffice it to say, I did not find him to be a comforting childhood figure.

Once, when I was perhaps 8 or 9, he was giving some talk about the end of times.  In something of a rapturous state he looked out at us in his small flock and declared the glories of heaven to come.  He said that, “One of the rewards for us ‘chosen ones’ was to be able to watch the ‘unsaved’ gnash their teeth in hell for eternity.”  Even better, once in heaven, every time God came by we would all fall down on our faces on streets of gold and praise him.  Seated on the red velvet pew, I looked up at my Mom beside me and whispered, “Mom!  Mom, if that’s heaven I don’t want to go.”  Her head whipped around, her eyes bored into me and the color drained from her face.  Poor Mama.

A few years after this things turned very, very dark in my family.  Addiction, abuse and mental illness seized our lives.  Damaged and devastated I became very angry, especially at God, and did my best to shut the Spirit door.  But the quiet knocking never really stopped.

In my early twenties I allowed my heart to open again to the longing to connect with source, with the creator.  I did not walk the Christian path.  I studied Native American philosophies, goddess mythologies, and Buddhist practices.  All of this felt right and good and aligned with the powerful love of Nature I’d had since my earliest memories.  However, some in my family accused me of being satanic, and in fact, I was at times terrified that this was all just the Devil trying to lead me into damnation.

However, the pull of genuine spirituality was stronger than the fear of hell and I continued to study and reflect and find my own, more authentic relationship with God, whatever he or she may be.

Through all of this, across the span of nearly thirty years now, I have lived with a sense of uneasiness about the whole Jesus thing and about the bible.  I long ago reached the point where I believe all the spiritual faiths and philosophies are pathways toward the same fundamental truth that we are spiritual beings in a physical embodiment and that the chief purpose of this life is finding, exploring and developing our spiritual selves.  However, I was just too put off by the fundamentalism and judgmentalism of the Christian religion to sit with its teachings.

I am only very recently beginning to be able to reintegrate this powerful body of learning and insight into my own spiritual path.  Nearly a year ago, when my life as I knew it blew up a very kind someone gave me a little devotional book called, “Jesus Calling.”  It was a pretty little brown leather-bound thing but the title made me uncomfortable.  Nonetheless, I was at a very low and hurt place and I was grateful for any kindness.  I opened the little book to that day’s reading and it seemed tailor-made for me right at that moment.  The message was not about judgment or sin; it was about the sheer peace of being intensely present and sensing the I Am, that deep part of ourselves that feels the connection to Spirit.

Over this past year, like many of us when we’re facing extreme challenges, I have been much more immersed in and committed to my spiritual practice.  I have met and counseled with many preachers and teachers of various faiths, including Christians, who, while promoting the teachings of Jesus, were far from judgmental or fear-mongering.  I rejoined my old Unity Community, which often uses examples from the bible in the original Aramaic language; offering me new ways of looking at biblical passages and stories.

This past year has also been a time of deep reflection, looking within myself and trying to make sense of why things went so wildly off the course I had planned.  Much of it was well beyond my control, but I have tried to be very honest with myself about the pieces I was responsible for.  The most glaring and somewhat humiliating realization was how ego-activated I had been.  If I had been just concerned with doing good work and less concerned about being credited for that work I would have given the attackers less ammunition with which to build their allegations.  Over these many months, I have thought a lot about, read a lot about and reflected a lot on ego.  I have realized that when I am acting from a place of ego, I am usually trying to mask an insecurity, am separating myself and trying to feel superior.  When ego is running my show I am not coming from a place of love or awareness of Spirit.

Just a few weeks ago I attended a well-known, mostly African American Christian center in Portland because I have a special friendship with the pastor and his wife.  Although I was still a bit uncomfortable with the deeply Christian message and symbolism, my heart was open to the underlying power.  The congregation was colorful not only in their skin tones but also through their voices in song and enthusiastic shouts of “Amen!” and “Come on!”  Although the little white church of my childhood did not have the incredible musicians and tremendous, soulful rhythm of these worshippers, it had taught me many of the old gospel songs and I had a great time, once again, singing those old tunes.

The sermon was well-delivered, lively and funny.  Its main message was the question, “What does Jesus mean to you?”  I was somewhat stunned to realize I had an answer, something of a reconciliation no less.  Right now, at this place in my development, Jesus to me represents the example of a human being living purely from the I Am rather than from ego, living empowered, despite human frailties, guided by Spirit.  As an example of how to be attacked without being hardened, of how to come from a place of faith and love to rise up again, there really is something to this Jesus-thing.

For the time being that’s my answer.   What about you?  What does Jesus mean to you?

(P.S. I love you Mama!  You walk your talk with your spirituality more genuinely than anyone I know.)

By Cylvia Hayes

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