In my religious tradition, that of the unprogrammed branch of the Religious Society of Friends, many feel comfortable because there is no need for the profession of a belief in Jesus. They’ve been injured by narrow interpretations of his life and teachings. Historically, Friends come from deeply Christian roots; these roots nourish many Friends today. The interpretation of the importance of Jesus Christ as the only Way has created a division among our membership, as it has in the membership of many other spiritually focused organizations.
The Tibetan Dalai Lama emphasizes that it is important to stay within our own religious tradition if we can find its value for us, not to "put the head of a sheep on a yak." Perhaps this is because our religious tradition is the one we know best. Some Friends come from other traditions, such as Judaism, or from backgrounds that deny any religious interpretation of life. Their way of identification with Source Energy will clearly be different from that of those who have been raised in the Christian tradition.
Often, our experiences with the religion of our birth are inadequate to connect us with the spiritual support we need. Worse, these experiences can also be destructive to us. In these cases, it seems safer to identify with the Light. Unprogrammed Friends often speak of following the Light rather than of following Jesus Christ. This is—for us— more inclusive of those who come from other religious traditions or who have had negative experiences with the Christian religion.
Several years ago, at a time when I was reading a book by the Dalai Lama, I had a dream of seven Buddhist monks, led by him. They appeared on a stage in front of a vast audience. I was in the wings of the stage, waiting for them to speak to the audience. They were silent. Why were they silent? People were gathered to hear them share the truths we need in our time. There was a microphone on a stand in front of them but no one was there to speak into it. Who would introduce them? A robed man walked on the stage, removed the microphone from its stand, and carried it to me. I was stunned. He nodded, and gestured to the stand. I was to introduce these wisdom teachers!
I felt totally inadequate. The audience waited. The monks waited. Slowly, I walked to the center of the stage and placed the microphone in its stand. I opened my mouth to say that there must be some mistake; I didn’t know enough about Buddhism to translate it into modern languages and terms. Instead, I experienced this knowledge flowing through me. Effortlessly, I spoke the deep truths that the monks behind me wished to share with people today.
This dream caused me to think of the need for spiritually focused people in our time and culture to introduce and translate ancient wisdom into our modern understanding. How do we translate these? We do so according to our own experiences. Otherwise, the truths of high beings cannot be shared with us. When we are willing to be a channel for this wisdom, it will flow through us effortlessly in ways appropriate to our backgrounds, time, and place. I was shown that this is my path of service.
When the Light becomes a personal guide to us, I call this the universal Christ Spirit. Our part is to open our hearts to the love that is always available to support and guide us.
When I was a very young child, I recognized that the spirit of Jesus, as shared with me in my Sunday school classes, was the same spirit I’d known in my Home. My Home, as I called it, was the place of love and Light where I’d lived before I’d been born as "this self." I’ve always identified with Jesus as being in, and of, the Light. I became disillusioned with Christian churches at a very young age, when I was taken to Protestant church services. There, the Light energy would grow as we sang, but when the preacher began to speak, it diminished to nothing. Often, it became the opposite of the Light. So I rejected the Christian religion. But I never rejected Jesus, for in my inner childself, I knew him.
I’ve had experiences of identification with people seeking the Source, or God, on other paths. I experience the spiritual energy of these different paths as varied manifestations of Source Energy, or to me, the Christ Spirit. For example, while I was in India with my very ill husband, Craig, I was joined in prayer for him by a group of Indians who spoke no English. I was deeply moved by this experience. Their vocal Hindu prayers were joined with my Quaker practice of silent centering in the One, the Source. At that moment, religious differences fell away. I experienced the Christ Spirit flowing through all of us.
Later, I had other deep experiences with the Christ Spirit in Indian forms, particularly through the presence of two enlightened Hindu gurus. I lived near H.W. L. Poonja ("Papaji") in Lucknow, India, for over eight months. My experiences with him were healing and transformational. I didn’t expect this. I received it because I was open to the Light and asking for help from the Source. Papaji’s presence was both physical and non-physical. He appeared at night, in times of crisis when I was caring for my husband. At those times, beginning at 3:00 am, he was in his home saying his pujas (prayers).
Ramana Maharshi, who died in 1950, is an enlightened Hindu guru whom I never met, physically. However, as Poonja’s guru, he appeared in my life at a time of great need. This was after Craig and I had returned to our home in Petrolia, California. Two of my loved ones were deeply wounded emotionally. My heart ached to help them but I didn’t know how. I drove into the driveway in my small pickup and stopped. I realized that I could send them Light. I raised my hands to send Light to them through my hands, as I’d learned to do as a child. Another presence joined me, sending Light through me. It was Ramana Maharshi. I recognized his presence because I’d experienced it powerfully when I read translations of his teachings in India. For five hours, I sat in my pickup with my hands upraised. This flow of Light energy entered through the top of my head and out through my upraised hands. I was not fatigued; I was more than myself. Love poured to me and through me. Later, I discovered that this occurred at about the time that healing began for one of these loved ones. The healing of the second one, Craig, didn’t occur until after his death.
In our unprogrammed Friends meetings, there is often a negative reaction to those who use Christian terms to describe an experience of the presence of Christ and Light. Does speaking in these terms exclude others, or is this kind of sharing an essential part of the variety of our Friends tradition? George Fox gave this account in his Journal of his transformational revelation: "I heard a voice which said, ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition.’" Of a further revelation, he writes: "Now the Lord God opened to me by his invisible power that every man is enlightened by the divine Light of Christ, and I saw it shine through all. . . ." Do we need to deny these roots in Christianity in order to be welcomed into our modern unprogrammed Friends meetings?
I’ve never tried to push my experiences with Jesus on those who have been injured by his misrepresentation. It was, therefore, with trembling and fear of societal consequences that I spoke of the following in a meeting for worship at Pacific Yearly Meeting. I had been deeply injured by a man who was haunted by the damage he had done to me. He needed me to forgive him in order to heal from his own pain and self-judgment. I tried, but I couldn’t do this. The injury arose afresh every time I focused on him and asked for help to forgive him. My efforts to do so were almost as painful as the original event. Finally, in desperation, I asked Jesus to help me. Jesus appeared before me. I knew him, in my deepest being. I flung myself at his form. I pushed myself into his form. I had a distinct feeling of putting on his form: shoving my arms down his arms, my legs down his legs. Finally, I pushed my head through his head. I looked at this man whom I couldn’t forgive, and his abuse of me, through the eyes of Jesus. In a flash, I saw the conditions that had distorted his personality and led him into rage and terrible destructiveness. I understood that, as he had been formed, he was not responsible for his destructive actions. My heart was overwhelmed with compassion for the person he’d been when he injured me and for the person he now was. He was still suffering from his fall from his true, eternal nature. I saw, through the eyes of Jesus, that there was no one to forgive! The person he’d been was an illusion, a distortion of his true self.
This was my path to forgiveness: identification with Jesus and his vision of all of us. I cried as I realized how deeply trapped we were, individually and collectively. If we saw ourselves and each other as Jesus sees us, we would know, as he told us, "your sins are forgiven." Our sins are the product of our false sense of who we are. We have lost our awareness that we are extensions of God-Life. I cried again as I related this to Friends, in worship. Afterward, several people came to me and told me that they needed to hear this. They had also been terribly injured and couldn’t forgive their abuser.
In this experience, I learned that when we can’t forgive another, we can’t forgive ourselves. We have all fallen short of the truth of our God-Natures.
Forgiveness, as I have experienced it, has two components. First, we must know who we truly are. When we know our true selves, we will know that others are as we are. None of us, as we really are, are capable of acting destructively. These actions come from our wounded and conditioned personalities.
We are, in our true selves, aspects of our Creator. In Quaker terms, there is that of God in us. This is the reality of our being; this is the reality we need to see and claim. Next, we need to access our true selves in our focus and selfidentification. This opens us to know that we are loved, cherished, and upheld by the Source of all Life. How we experience this is unique to us.
When we open ourselves to these truths, forgiveness flows. This is forgiveness that we cannot generate from our wounded personality-selves. How many times should we forgive another? Uncountable times, as Jesus made clear. Forgiveness flows from the love of God as water flows over stones in a river. Who can count the stones? Who can separate the flow of water into distinct segments that cleanse the river’s stones?
Jesus said, "As you judge, so you will be judged." Who judges? We judge ourselves; we judge each other. We are the judges. God, the Source, is Life. Life does not withhold its flow from its expressions. When we are living the true Life that has been gifted to us, we are extensions of that Life in our bodies, times, and places. This is the act of translating the wisdom teachings into our time and place. We are all called to be translators of this healing, cleansing wisdom. Let it be so, to the glory of our Creator.