J is for Jesus

or How Jewish mysticism brought me face to face with Jesus

I have been denying, ignoring and rationalising away Jesus for more than thirty years. Before I knew I was a Quaker, I tried more conventional churches. I struggled with the creeds, I struggled with the Trinity. I could cope with God, and the Holy Spirit – but Jesus, I just couldn’t get it. The teaching, the good example, yes, fine. A great teacher, let’s sit and listen. An example, yes, let’s love our neighbour. But this divinity business – I don’t think so.

Then in recent years, I’ve acknowledged the need to look again. Several incidents challenged me to do this. The claim, I almost felt the accusation, that I had modelled Jesus’ love for someone – what? me? how could I have done that? A challenge from a Buddhist friend when I made a dismissive remark about Jesus. A vision of Jesus teaching by a lakeside, in a guided meditation. A Reiki attunement raised questions about healing. Did Jesus miraculously heal people? Does faith healing really work? In my head I couldn’t accept it, yet I would put my hands on someone and expect healing energy to flow.

I went back to the gospels, and to the early Friends. I read, I thought, I used my intellect and my empathy. I came to see that whether Jesus was fact or fiction didn’t matter, there was a deeper truth in the gospel stories. I came to understand that the writers of these stories accepted and expected miracles.

Then I went to Woodbrooke for a course about Jewish mysticism, led by Howard Cooper and Andy Stoller. In the first session I gained an insight into the use of teaching stories and a new light fell on the gospels. The text we looked at, my response to it (which seemed to me simple and childish) and the response of the group to my comments, gave me an insight into the truth of direct communication with God, what it is to be a Jewish mystic and what it is to be a Quaker.

I went to epilogue, because I always go to epilogue at Woodbrooke, it is one of the things I most value about being there. Helen Rowlands spoke about the joys of saying yes. I knew then that Jesus had, in a mystic sense, been walking beside me, holding my hand as my Sunday school teacher had told me, all my life. But I had been denying it, refusing to acknowledge him. That evening, at epilogue, I said ‘yes’. In evangelical Christian language I ‘asked Jesus into my life’ – except that he was already there, I was just, finally, recognising that.

I wrote this about two years ago, but the experience is still vivid to me, and when I recall it, the sense of the presence of Jesus is still vivid too. I still find it somewhat difficult to talk about, especially if my hearers feel that I am being very ‘Christian’ in my language. I’m still clear that I am a Quaker, a Universalist, and a Buddhist, but I have to acknowledge an awareness of Jesus in my life – because that is my experience. I’m going back to Woodbrooke next month to take another course with the same tutors, because learning about Judaism has opened up so much else for me. I’m not sure whether or not I hope it will be as dramatic as the above, but I’ve received some very clear promptings that I should be there.

3 thoughts on “J is for Jesus

  1. I do love hearing about your faith journey, especially as looking back on my own, you were so instrumental all those years ago at university in laying the foundation stones for my own journey into full-time Christian ministry. Simply because of your uncomplicated way of talking about God and Jesus then and making them sound like real live ‘people’, not just some story book mythical characters, you sowed the seeds for me to have my own personal encounter with them many, many years later! For me, your story just emphasises how gentle and gracious God is when he deals with us. He doesn’t force himself on us, but allows us to seek, and explore and finally know him through personal revelation, maybe stepping in when we go too far and maybe guiding and prompting us indirectly along better paths, though we often don’t recognise his presence till later, looking back.

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