A coaching client told me that every night she gives her 3-year-old son Owen a massage before he goes to sleep. Then the two pray to Jesus. Eventually the boy figured out that when mom starts praying, the massage is over and it’s time to go to sleep. One night as mom sat at the edge of Owen’s bed, he took her hand and placed it on his tummy. He told her, “No Jesus tonight, Mom. Just rub.”
Owen’s request may be symbolic of a dynamic you and I might employ if we truly wish to bring relief to those we encounter, and to receive healing ourselves. Simple human kindness might bring us greater release from pain than following dogma. We might need understanding and comfort more than concepts of sin, heaven and hell. We might appreciate others just being present with us and loving us as we are, more than prescribing behaviors that will fix us. We might need love more than religion.
Now, before you get all hot and bothered because you believe I am denouncing Jesus, hear this: I think Jesus totally rocks. If there is one spiritual master whose good works I would emulate, it is Jesus Christ. In my opinion he is the penultimate teacher of healing, compassion and forgiveness. If there is one message that the world could benefit from, it is the message of Jesus Christ.
It’s what’s been done in Jesus’ name that has brought fear, pain, guilt and suffering to the masses. More wars have been fought in the name of religion, and more people have been killed supposedly for God than for any other reason. If we removed religious separateness from the equation of humanity, how much more peaceful would our world be?
If Jesus were to come back today, I’m certain he would be appalled at what has been done supposedly for his glory. (Carl Jung declared, “Thank God I am not a Jungian.” What might Jesus say?) The story is told of a black man who applied for admission to a white church in the South. He was refused admission and given a lame reason. The next year he applied again and was refused for a different reason. Each succeeding year the fellow applied, and he was continually rejected. Finally, the man fell to his knees and prayed, “Dear Jesus, I have been trying to get into this church for ten years, and every year they won’t let me in.” Soon the man heard the voice of Jesus answer him. “Don’t feel bad, brother. I have been trying to get into that church for a lot longer than you, and they won’t let me in either.”
I am not against religion. Religion helps a lot of people. Every religion holds a truly spiritual element, which if discovered and lived, brings deep comfort, healing, and awakening to the soul. God bless religions that keep God at their essence. If you belong to a religion and it truly helps you live a happier life, then the religion is serving you as it should, and all is well.
Some elements of religion do not represent the work of God. Guilt is not an attribute of God. It is the invention of the fearful mind. Voltaire noted, “God created man in his image and likeness, and we returned the compliment.” Because we learned fear and punishment from people who felt disconnected from their source of love, we believe that God wields fear and punishment. If God were a person, he would surely need a course in anger management.
Yet, God is not a person with human frailties. God is a spirit, and a loving one at that. I wonder how ministers can stand in front of a church before a huge placard proclaiming, “God is love,” and teach fear. It just doesn’t make sense. I saw a cartoon depicting a preacher standing at the door of a church bidding goodbye to each parishioner as he or she exited the church after the Sunday service. As he shook each person’s hand, the preacher explained, “Nothing personal…Nothing personal…Nothing personal.”
Religion or any spiritual path should be deeply personal. It should touch you where you most want and need to be touched – in the heart. Any spiritual practice should bring you relief and respite from the pain of a world caught in blame and confusion. Going to a church or any spiritual gathering should feel like coming home, not a call to arms. You should be more relaxed about being who you are. There is no need to feel wrong, blameful or that you must change to toe a line set for you by others who could not tow an impossible line themselves. Prayer should be as comforting to your soul as a good massage is comforting to your body. No Jesus, just rub.
Jesus quoted, “Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings you have perfected praise.” If Jesus himself sat at Owen’s bedside that poignant night, I don’t believe he would have been offended by Owen’s request. I think that he himself, like Owen’s mother, would have smiled, massaged his weary child, and bid him a sweet rest.