How surprising it was, one Christmas not too many years ago, to feel myself moved in a new way by the sacred music of the season. I’d always loved the music-as-music; Handel’s Messiah was in my bones, so that I barely needed a score to sing it each December. What hit me that one time (and every year since) — like a tender, overwhelming wave — was the force with which Jesus “registered” in my heart, my body.
Suddenly I got what he was about. I’d never considered myself a Christian (still don’t); I grew up Catholic, and Catholics had their own way of portraying the man said to be divine, a belief system I’d long ago left behind. So to suddenly . . . connect . . . to directly feel within myself the reality of what he embodied . . . was as much a surprise as it was purely joyful.
What Jesus embodied was the truth of us all: that we all are both human and divine.
Those lines in Messiah (taken from the New Testament): “Come unto Him, all ye that labor, come unto Him that are heavy laden, and He will give you rest . . . and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” The words and melody deeply familiar, all the way back to childhood. I had always loved that movement, its poignant message, the soaring soprano. Why now were there tears rolling down my face? A whole new thing was happening. A recognition. Oh, THIS is what Jesus was. What he meant.
This: What has flooded my very body for years, remaking entirely what it feels like to be human. The peace that passeth understanding, that the mind cannot hope to account for. What Jesus embodied was the truth of us all: that we all are both human and divine. We are love incarnate. “Come unto Him” means let yourself know what he knew. About your very self. Your human self.
This isn’t about Jesus as “savior,” not in the way it tends to be understood. This isn’t about the belief systems that have been spawned in the centuries since he lived. What stirs in me, hearing or singing that music (and so much other sacred music), is the deep knowing that suffering is not necessary for a human being, is not inevitable.
Hence the tears I cannot stop. How I ache to convey this! So Jesus must have ached — that his “followers” would finally get that he didn’t “have” something they lacked.
There is a bodied knowing that profound rest is our primal condition, that we needn’t strain. Needn’t fear life — or death. There’s an enduring wish that all could know what it is to live an embodied life that’s both human and divine. A life authentically lived — an in-motion, intelligent, mortal, heartfelt existence, knowing what you essentially are. Reveling in it!
Such an ache, each time I sense the distress in another, the confusion and tension, all that’s rampant in the human condition. All that’s believed to be an inevitable part of being human. How pointless it all is. How needless! The life of Jesus was meant to say you need not suffer. The heart is a spacious thing. Such generosity in the utter willingness to be with life as it is. Such undiscriminating tenderness! Such cherishing of the ordinary.
When I was a little Catholic child, sitting on the shiny pew in my lacy chapel veil, small hands folded in the lap of my starched dress, something in me sensed this larger possibility, this truth so much bigger than I could understand. I couldn’t have put words to it. But I felt it each time I knelt at the communion rail and took onto my tongue the thin disk of bread meant to symbolize something. Somehow the body of Christ could be taken into me. Somehow was me. How could that be?
How distorted and misused Jesus has been. (It only just began with the crucifixion.) When all he meant was to show us the way into our own innate kindness. What profound rest is there, waiting for us all.