If Jesus, why religion?

I’ve been thinking about two powerful, life-changing spiritual experiences I’ve had. Both of them were encounters with Jesus. The first one was my “born-again” experience. Most people of faith, including most Christians, grow into faith gradually, and have nothing so dramatic as the “born-again” experience which immediately turns life right-side-up and changes _everything_. Some, from traditions where sudden, radical change is suspect, even doubt where the experience is real. I can only speak from my own experience, but what happened to me when I was thirteen was real.

It came to me after months of searching. When I was twelve, I came to wonder if the only reason I believed in God was that my parents had taught me to. I declared myself agnostic in an attempt to learn the truth. I didn’t know if God was there or not, but I reasoned that he could make himself known to me if he was, and so I began praying, and I began experiencing his Presence. However, the Presence (and the peace that came with it) seemed quite temporary. I was desperate for something that lasted, something that could change me. One day, as I was walking home from school, something broke, and since that day, I have never doubted God’s reality (although many times I’ve fought it!).

With that experience, I was also changedI was healed from deep fears, self-loathing, and given literally a new lease on life. I honestly don’t think I would still be alive here if that magnificent breakthrough of grace never occurred. Also from that time, (and actually a little before it) I became an active, passionate church-goer, an ardent Bible-reader, a dedicated (more often than not!) Christian who was a bit odd in having zero loyalty to denominational brands, and moved freely across all Protestant expressions of Christianity, and eventually into Catholicism.

The second one, which I have never publicly shared before, happened five years ago. Like the first, it also came after months of questing. I had recently discovered the teaching of “theosis”:/spirituality/union-with-god/, which seemed to me to be not only the forgotten core of Christianity, but of other religions too, and very simply the meaning of life itself. For some people that would have been enough, but with me, it opened a can of worms. Slowly, I saw many of the assumptions of Christianity come into question. It was like the warmth of the light was making the fabric unravel. Soon, it seemed that the “Gospel” as it had been taught, was grossly misunderstood, that Jesus came to teach us how to live; how to let God’s light transform us and bring us into “the Kingdom of Heaven” here and now, allowing the work of theosis to change us, and make us as divine as Jesus himself.

One night, as I was at the computer typing my journal, Jesus came to me, wholly unexpected. I didn’t see him, but his Presence was as real as anything I’ve ever experienced. He showed me his heart. He showed me scenes from his life. The beauty and power of his love was so intense, I melted and wept. I also saw he hated the religion of his day. There was something else, too. He showed me that he is completely misunderstood, that he began as a human being, and realized God is his Father and our Father, and allowed that realization to transform him into a walking manifestation of God’s love.

And there was nothing he desired except that we do the same.

To be free. Free human beings, free of the concepts and constructs that separate us and bind us. To become sons and daughters of God. To be one with him as he is one with the Father. To allow the Reality to so penetrate me, that “I” am gone, and only God can be seen. To be both innocent and wise, as sly as serpents but as harmless as doves.

It strikes me that the born-again experience is the experience of enlightenment, with the potential to bring people to full and lasting Awakening. In it, there is virtually no ego, God takes over, and everything changes. But sadly, that awareness and simplicity seldom lasts, although there are often lasting effects. Usually the religion subsumes it. What happened to me, was that I wanted to grow in it. I eagerly sought the advice of preachers and Christian books on how to be spiritual. I took the churches’ ideas of “right” and “wrong.” I put God behind the complicated concepts of religion, drawing curtains between myself and the light, although my “baby Christian” high lasted a long time.

I had a brief spiritual conversation with a man at a Burger King this week. After we talked briefly about mysticism as the direct experience of God, he got up to leave, and said that reading the writings of R. C. Sproul had shown him that he is a Calvinist!

It was all I could do to keep from saying, “I’m so sorry!”

I hurt a friend recently. A young woman, still in the “high” after her born-again experience, yet well on the way of having the pure, light of innocence-wisdom corrupted by the teachings, concepts, and prejudices of the religion. I tried to warn her about it, but it was the wrong thing to do… I got way ahead of the Spirit, and offended her, probably causing her to raise defenses and guards more.

Yet I wonder… If Jesus, why religion? We impose so much baggage on “being clear” on Christ’s nature, we have no desire to follow him into theosis, no concept that it’s possible. We bastardize his words until “the Gospel” means something about saying Yes to God and going to heaven when we die. Why did it take me 26 years from my first encounter with Christ till I was ready for what he’d show me in the second?

Here I’m making the same “why” question that I wrote about earlier forming here, the child’s why?, the spiritual why? I know the answer is in how I will live today. It just seems a damn shame, that’s all. That’s Jedi life in the real world.