[TheDaVinciDialogue.com, May 6, 2006]
Editors titled this: “Yeah, Whatever. This is All About You-Know-Who.”
When the DaVinci Code hoopla is all said and done, it will still be Jesus that we’re talking about. It’s Jesus whose face on the cover sells a million magazines, whose name instills widespread awe. Even people who despise Christians paradoxically admire their Lord. In discussions of religion nearly everything is up for grabs, yet on this one point there’s widespread agreement. Why do people instinctively admire Jesus?
Forget that old saw about “He was a great teacher.” You may have fond memories of a high school teacher, but it’s not like this. When it comes to Jesus, it’s not just affection we feel, but love.
How can we love somebody we’ve never met? Maybe because, as the old song says, “He first loved me.”
But how can we sense love coming from someone who died two thousand years ago? Because he’s *not dead.* He’s still around.
Here’s how I know. After I finished college, I spent a summer hitchhiking around Europe. I was a dedicated spiritual explorer, enthusiastic about all the world’s religions — except Christianity, which I thought stupid and embarrassing.
One afternoon I was in a church looking at a statue of Jesus. Suddenly I realized I was on my knees. I could hear an interior voice, as if a radio in my chest suddenly snapped on. It said, “I am your life.”
Over the years I’ve continued to hear that voice, and found that many other people have have done the same, all around the world and in all centuries. These stories are remarkably alike. People encounter a spiritual presence of immense authority and power, but most importantly, love; and his name is Jesus.
This kind of thing has been off the discussion table for a few centuries, but that didn’t stop it from happening. Now that there’s greater openness to spiritual realities, maybe we can agree that, whatever else Jesus is, he’s a very powerful spiritual *something.* People don’t bad-mouth Jesus, and it’s because something inside checks them. They may eagerly hate Christians, but they can’t hate Christ. They sense there is a mystery here, and they sense something beautiful and good.
Let’s think for a minute about the nature of evidence. Imagine you’re watching people as they come in a hotel lobby. They’re shaking their umbrellas and saying, “It’s coming down in buckets!” You shrewdly conclude, “It must be raining.” Though you haven’t seen the rain personally, you make a deduction based on the reports and behavior of people streaming into the lobby.
Now imagine that people are coming in and saying, “I met Jesus.” They’re awed, happy, and glowing. Even though they’ve never met each other, their stories match up.
Yet it’s clearly not a regular walking-around human that they encountered. They fumble for words, and end up using language of the senses: they feel “near” or “far” from Jesus, they find his presence “sweet.” They echo the sensory terms of campfire gospel songs: “I Heard the Lord Call My Name,” “I Saw the Light,” “He Touched Me.”
You ask how it’s possible to perceive the presence of another person without using the physical senses. Someone suggests that it’s kind of like when you’re dozing on the subway and feel somebody staring at you. Except that what’s coming across is overwhelming love.
These reports are consistent and numerous, but you can’t figure out a way to test, or even predict, them. Somebody says that that’s the whole point. The initiative is completely outside the realm of human control. That’s how we know there’s something — Someone — there.
And with further study you note a penumbra effect. Some people have this kind of knock-your-socks off encounter, but a much larger group just feels inexplicably drawn to Jesus. They can’t say why, but they hunger to be “near” him, and voluntarily spend time in prayer, corporate worship, and Gospel reading. Further out are folks whose experience is even fainter, but instead of shrugging it off, they spend their lives beating their heads against Jesus. They may resist and argue, but there’s something about him that won’t let them go.
There is a better way; early Christians called it “The Way.” The interior presence of Christ can be nurtured and developed, as we gain discernment to separate the real thing from impulsiveness, emotionalism, or delusion. In the process we become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), transformed in body as well as soul. Many spiritual disciplines of the Way also occur in other world religions, such as fasting, love of enemies, acts of compassion, the guidance of a spiritual mother or father, sacramental meals and actions, and cultivation of continuous prayer. But, where some faiths expect a loss of personality boundaries and dissolution into the universe, here it’s almost the reverse: the presence of a distinct other Person becomes increasingly clear, someone who is all love and who fills your entire being with light.
Eastern Orthodox hymns stress that Christ is “the only lover of mankind.” He is the only pure and true love that we suspicious, lonely humans will ever know on this earth. As we absorb this radiant love, we are healed, clarified, and released from battering thoughts and fears; we are set free to love in return.
The reason everybody can’t stop talking about Jesus, the reason we instinctively respond to him with respect and love, is because he is still alive. When we get tired of arguing about creeds and Mary Magdalene’s bones, in the silence of the night we will still sense that presence. It is beating in the great heart of the universe, and in our own cramped and selfish hearts. And this stirs us with longing and hope.
It is possible to know Jesus better. The first step is to ask.