For about a week or two, I have considered writing about how my understanding of the word "Christ" has shifted: it feels like a quiet part of my Quaker journey that remains in the corners where the cobwebs gather, awaiting a good cleaning in order to be noticed. The idea of writing about this inward shift and continued revelation has been growing, and then I came across a post from Brandice, that includes her own thoughts about Christ in Quakerism.
My life turned to other things, and so I was kind of caught off guard when I pulled up the same post from Brandice again, realizing I had gone as far as creating a draft of something to post but hadn't yet. Even writing this introduction points either to my resistance to gathering the cobwebs for you, or to my fear of "What would it mean for me to share this bit of my Quakerism and spiritual journey...???" (Yipes!) I am amazed at how much I don't want to post this, and yet Brandice's comments makes me squirm with the familiar sense that I may have something to say...
First, let me start with this: I was raised in a Jewish household. Is it any wonder that I squirm when I realize I am called to speak about my understanding, then, of Christ?
Next, let me move to the end: I am at a place in my Quakerism and in my spiritual faith where I have come to understand that "Christ" is that Divine Principle that existed long before a carpenter named Jesus was born and will exist long after all of us are dead. For me, Christ is neither the teacher Jesus nor the spiritual figurehead of Lord and Savior. Christ is another name for the concept of the Living Presence, the Seed, the Light.
I did not come to this understanding easily, and I do not share this part of my story comfortably. Having been raised a Jew, I was exposed to the sentiment that Jews believe one set of things—there is one God; there are laws in place to sustain the Jewish people; etc.—and Christians believe another: Jesus is the Messiah; the only way to salvation and to enter into heaven is to accept Jesus Christ as your savior; etc. In subtle ways, I was taught to retreat a bit from someone who spoke of their "Christ-ianity," and I was fearful of anyone who asked me if I had been saved: Would I have to out myself as a Jew? Memories follow me to this day of being berated and ridiculed by classmates who were raised in Christian households.
As an attender to Quaker meetings for worship, then, and even as a new member among Friends, I was among those who cringed inwardly (if not outwardly) at the use of the word Christ during vocal ministry. The words Christ, Messiah, Jesus, and Savior hinted at the doubt lurking within myself, wondering if I truly was meant to be among Friends. Yet at the same time, I felt very much a part of Friends, and I disliked the implication (one I had created for myself, mind you) that worshippers who used outward Christ language were really wanting folks like me to step away...
My inner conflict became a bit more intense, but not overpowering, after entering into my relationship with my partner Jeanne. She occasionally read the New Testament and infrequently would say something about her experience in church growing up. How could Jeanne and I both be Quaker when she had a faith in Jesus (Christ or otherwise) and I had a faith in God?
I never pushed for answers to that question; I seldom broached the subject with Jeanne. Over time, she established some dear friendships with a few Friends whose progressive Christian Quakerism meshed well with her own, and they later started up a Bible study for a few months. I ended up establishing some of my own cherished relationships among Friends who, like Jeanne, had a deep yearning to be faithful but didn't couch that yearning and that Spirit in terms of Christ.
At some point, I had come across Lloyd Lee Wilson's book, Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order, and a fire was lit within me: a huge part of this smallish book spoke to my condition--and I could ignore the obvious chapters that dealt with Jesus Christ, the New Testament, etc. But the parts of his book about covenant community, gospel order, spiritual discernment all rang true for me, and it was not tied up in the notion of one particular spiritual-slash-human being named Christ. I created a book study group to focus on the chapters that most appealed to me because I was hungry to share and spread the Truthfulness that I found within its pages, but the greatest enlightenment for me came from something a Friend in the group shared.
This Friend had said something about Christ meaning more than a reference to an extraordinary individual from 2,000 years ago. Christ in fact meant, according to this Friend, that Principle that is borne within us—and has been over the generations of existence—that, when tapped, can guide us into right order with all creation.
Having heard that Friend's witness, I felt something shift inside me. My body tingled with its own response to Truth; a space opened within me. Someone had innocently freed me of the rigid interpretation of Christ that I had grown up with. Here was a definition that did not exclude me from a faith community in which I was participating; but rather was congruent with some of my own secret thinking:
If there is a single Jesus Christ, then why can't there be a single Liz Christ or Martin Christ or Robin Christ...? Can we not be as singly divine as we are singly unique? Can we not be as singly divine as we are singly beloved children of God?I've kept these newer thoughts to myself until now, but the Light I had experienced at that particular book study session changed how I would receive the vocal ministry offered by other Friends thereafter, as they spoke about Jesus being with them, or Christ loving them tenderly. I could at last listen for the Spirit encapsuled by the words, and no longer cringe or retreat.
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As I sit with this post before publishing it, I understand that God does not so much care about how I come to know God, whether it is through Jesus, through Adonai Elohim, through Allah, or even through sobriety. It matters not how I name this Unnameable Presence, or even if I name it. What matters is that I have come to know it experimentally. I know it as my body knows my breath; as my heart knows my blood. There are specific incidents in my life I could tell you, but those stories are for another time, another post...
I once heard a voice inside me during a meeting for worship about 18 months ago. It said:
It does not matter whether you are liked or not. What matters is that you are faithful.Thanks for reading me.