Many people suspect that the religion we call “Christianity” has diverged significantly from the actual, spiritual message of Jesus Christ. But what is the message of Jesus Christ? Although mainstream Christianity has not yet appreciated the depth of wisdom within the ancient Christian texts found at Nag Hammadi, I happen to love this message from the Gospel of Thomas because the poetic imagery is so mystically evocative and I think it captures truly the heart of Jesus Christ’s message:
77 (1) Jesus said, “I am the light that is over all things.144 I am all: from me all has come forth, and to me all has reached.145 (2) Split a piece of wood; I am there. (3) Lift up the stone, and you will find me there.” ~Gospel of Thomas
O Christ, how beautiful is Your message!
You are the subtle light that interpenetrates all things.
You are the light under the stone.
You are the light at the bottom of the ocean.
You are the light in the darkness of space.
You are the light in the deepest cave.
Everywhere I look, I cannot help but find You, for there is nowhere You are not.
And yes, especially you are to be found in darkness.
When a volcano kills thousands, you are there.
When a fawn starves to death, you are there.
But why? Why is there such suffering?
For yours is a light that shines through all but still there remains darkness, still there remains death, disease, and suffering.
O God, how much suffering there is!
Where is the logic? If it exists, it is hidden from me.
Where is the mercy? If it exists, many suffer despite it.
Where is the love? If it exists, it does not stop an earthquake from killing thousands.
So where are You?
Seek and Ye Will Find
Many Christians have had such doubts. I don’t blame them. They are perfectly reasonable and defensible responses to the plainly evident evils in this world.
For those in the depths of suffering, I have no answer for you. I have no secret theological argument to solve this problem of God’s apparent absence. But fully aware of the unsolvability of the problem of evil, I nevertheless find great wisdom of the message of Christ.
Because perhaps it is less about finding God under the stone, and more about the joys contained in lifting the stone. Less about finding Christ inside the wood, than the depths of experience found in the process of looking itself.
It is yearning. It is the seeking. “Seek and ye will find.” “Ask and you will receive.”
Does this statement work for all “asks”? If I ask for a trillion dollars will I receive it? Unlikely.
So what am I supposed to be looking for? “The light that is over all things.”
What is this light? I surely cannot detect it with any scientific instrument. I cannot straightforwardly see it with my eyeballs. So what is it? How do I know I am not just a deluded poet spitting out nonsense phrases that have no reference to reality?
The Magic of Christ
Have you ever stepped outside and the world seems alive with potential as if a magical spell had been cast upon all you see? The trees seem more beautiful than ever. The light from the setting sun makes everything glow with a subtle beauty. The birds fly in a synchronized dance as if putting on a show for you. The leaves swirl and fly as if animated by a holy spirit.
Anyone familiar with the psychedelic experience knows what I am talking about. It is that feeling of magic in the world that is both fully embodied and embedded in the world but simultaneously holistically transcendent.
I’m sure we’ve all had moments like this, even outside of psychedelics, where the majesty and beauty and awe-some-ness of reality catches us by surprise.
It is like the CEO who is so busy chasing a higher stock price that he never notices how beautiful the sunset is every time he drives home. But after one especially exhausting day, where he seems as if at a breaking point, he suddenly notices the sunset. Like truly notices the sunset in what feels like the first time he has ever witnessed such a sight.
Perhaps he also hears a voice in his head, speaking loudly and with utter clarity. The voice gives him exactly the right message to light up his entire Soul. It is less about the content of the message than the entire phenomenology of how the voice suddenly appeared in his mind.
Perhaps at this same moment, a song comes on the radio that is deeply meaningful in connection with the voice and the beauty of the sunset.
He is suddenly overcome with emotion as all the artificial barriers and defenses of his ego-consciousness are cleansed and washed away by the subtle, magical light of the entire gestalt, for it is not any particular aspect of the experience, but the experience in its totality, its wholeness, that pierces his heart and radiates throughout his entire nervous system, spilling out into every cell of his body.
This subtle, magical light is what I believe Jesus is talking about in terms of being the “light that is over all things.”
It is a light of experience. It is a light of gnosis.
Christ as Oversoul
Suppose, for the sake of argument, that all things have souls.
Suppose, further, that the collection of all things also has a soul: Call this the “Oversoul,” as Ralph Waldo Emerson did.
As the smaller souls move and interact with each other they are also interacting with the Oversoul and the Oversoul with them in a cosmic dance of reciprocity.
The smaller souls are like an infinite number of raindrops dropping continuously into an infinite ocean, causing ripples and waves throughout the entire body of water.
As they are falling some of the raindrops beat their chests and puff themselves up and declare themselves independent of the ocean, forgetting that from the cycles of evaporation, they themselves are born from the ocean and will soon return to it.
So it is also with us humans and the stars from which we are made. We are not separate from the cosmos. We are the cosmos, experiencing itself, reflecting upon itself, being itself like a whirlpool in a river is being the river.
Jesus said, “I am all: from me all has come forth, and to me all has reached.”
Our eyes are quick to glide over statements like this, and our minds gloss over the spiritual implications.
From Christ, all has come forth. Good and bad. Light and darkness. Jesus is found both under the stone and in the rainbow. At the darkest hour of the soul, and the brightest moment. Christ is there both when He seems absent and when he feels fully present. For Christ said, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”(Matthew 28:20)
This phenomenon is not just in the heads of humans. It is not just humans projecting a subjective light of Christ across the universe.
Christ is a universal message for He is all things and in all things, as Paul said in Colossians 3:11.
But how can an all too human Jewish man who lived in a remote corner of the Roman empire 2,000 years ago come to represent the light of all things?
The Alien Christ
Scientists are increasingly certain that countless forms of life probably has existed and does exist across the vast stretches of the universe.
How can Jesus the Nazarene, the flesh and blood man, be the universal Christ for an alien species with 8 legs and 4 heads? They wouldn’t even recognize him! How can this particular Nazarene man be their saving light? Would they not have their own alien Christ?
This is perhaps the hardest thing for Western Christians to understand about mystical approaches to Christianity: The Message of Christ is ultimately transcendent to the all too human story of a man named Jesus of Nazareth who lived and died like a mortal man.
Ahh, but the orthodox Christians will say, “But he rose on the third day! That is what makes him unique! We have eyewitness accounts and the entire story of Christ depends on that! Otherwise, Jesus was just a deluded fraud or liar!”
I find this response truly puzzling as if Christians can find no wisdom of the message of Christ unless he becomes a super-man.
Is there no spiritual wisdom in his ministry and teaching?
Can no meditation on his message bring about an inner transformation of our Souls?
For me, the message of Christ is completely independent of the historical truth of any real resurrection. For the contemplation of Christ’s message has the power to resuscitate my soul, to give it life such that I can lift a stone in there here and now of my physical existence and find Christ’s light underneath.
None of that depends on some morally repugnant story of a Father murdering his own Son as a blood-substitute to save me from eternal damnation. That is a barbaric and twisted morality of retributive justice completely divorced from my own understanding of Christ’s infinite love and mercy, and his mystical message of inner salvation in the here and now of present reality.
20 Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among[or within] you.”
The Heaven of Christ is not some “place” out there in some astral pocket dimension. Christ says clearly I am already in possession of everything I need to be at peace in the Kindom of God, for it lies among me and within me, in the “sacrament of the present moment,” as Jean-Pierre de Caussade puts it.
The Divine Name of God
When Moses asked God what His name was, God did not deem it necessary to reduce Himself to any particular name, which would limit his universality and restrict his cosmic reach. So instead of giving a name like, “Odin” or “Zeus” He said to Moses: “I AM THAT I AM.”
The entire history of Christianity referring to God with masculine pronouns has produced an unfortunate misunderstanding that God has any such particularity. But all such descriptors and labels are but human inventions and conveniences, grip hooks in the sky to help our feeble human minds climb towards the transcendental.
But the true God and thus the true Christ is beyond all particular humanness. Beyond all gender. God is truly both a He and She, a They and It, a You and Me; for She generates, negates, sustains, and transcends all things as the Ultimate and Eternal One or All.
But does not the Christian story say ‘The Word became Flesh”? Did not God incarnate Himself in a single particular human being through the Virgin Mary 2000 years ago in the backwaters of the Roman empire?
Christians in the West have become incapable of thinking mystically. Always their theology is so literal!
The Gospel of John does not say “The Word became this one tiny human from Nazareth and nothing else.” It says “The Word became Flesh”.
I read this as saying The Word became flesh itself. Not any particular flesh. But flesh qua fleshness.
The Universal Christ
It is only by means of a universal incarnation, a universal embodiment, that Christ can be “in all things.” Richard Rohr calls this “Mystery of the Universal Christ.” For it is indeed a terrible and wonderous mystery; indeed, the heart of all spiritual mystery: the sacredness of all reality.
So when Jesus said “I am all” He was not necessarily only saying “myself in my particularity as a human man from Nazareth is all things.” That is absurd. He is making a reference to the universality of God’s declaration to Moses: “I AM THAT I AM.”
God identifies Themself as “I AM.” And Jesus says “I AM all.” Is there not a connection? Jesus is therefore not declaring himself in His all too human particularity as God. The pronoun in “I AM” is making reference to God, and thus Jesus is saying God is All.
But as a wise and mystical teacher in the same class as Buddha, Jesus is sufficiently awakened to the deeper truth that he is also an “I AM.”
For all souls have an “I,” which is a vantage point, or conscious perspective. God could be seen as telling Moses that “I AM CONSCIOUSNESS.” But like the ocean containing the raindrops, The Universal Consciousness is identical to the collection of all smaller consciousness, but also is always in the process of sustaining and transcending smaller consciousnesses to become a Whole Consciousness, a Consciousness of the All: what Ralph Waldo Emerson called the Oversoul.
So Jesus was not wrong to say He was God. In Psalms 82:6 God tells us that, “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you.”
All of us are gods.
As Alan Watts put it so well,
“Jesus Christ knew he was God. So wake up and find out eventually who you really are. In our culture, of course, they’ll say you’re crazy and you’re blasphemous, and they’ll either put you in jail or in a nut house (which is pretty much the same thing). However if you wake up in India and tell your friends and relations, ‘My goodness, I’ve just discovered that I’m God,’ they’ll laugh and say, ‘Oh, congratulations, at last you found out.”
Therefore, Jesus was not the only person to realize that since God Is an “I AM” and He is also an “I AM,” that He is a God, indeed, is One with God.
This is the heart of all mystical experience: to realize not only that we are gods but that we are one with THE God, who is both the whole cosmos and that which is always in the process of transcending the whole, to create a greater and more perfect whole, always and forever.
The Transforming Power of Christ’s Message
But this is not just some hippy-dippy stoner logic that causes us to be like “Woah man that’s far out!”
A recognition of what it truly means to be “made in God’s image” has the power to make real transformation in our lives.
It causes us to be more aware of those magical sunset moments. And indeed, we learn that occasions with far less grandeur than a sunset or starry sky contain the same subtle, magical light of Christ.
We start to feel the same energy in a mug of coffee. In the embrace of our lover or the laugh of a friend. In the playfulness of children or the humility of the poor. In the chaotic dance of light and shadows on an afternoon ceiling. In the subtle geometric beauty of texture in a concrete sidewalk. In the wonder of the golden hour transforming an urban cityscape into a Garden of Eden.
Jesus said that truly, children will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. When the CEO was overcome with emotion at the magic of the sunset, in that moment he became like a child.
Indeed, children are more intimately familiar with the magic of pure experience, the beauty of the eternal NOW.
And indeed, if we are truly transformed by the message of Christ, of Anointment, then we will learn to find light under a stone.
And most importantly, when we realize that we are gods and everyone else is a god, and every blade of grass is god, and every grain of sand on every beach on every planet is a god, then truly it will be easier to follow Christ’s Greatest Commandments to love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself.
This commandment is sometimes difficult when we do not love ourselves. When we think we are rags and vermin, as the Christian Protestants like to say. But. this focus on our utter depravity misses the message of the Universal Christ: we are gods, and our neighbors are gods, and we are to love our neighbors as if Christ is our neighbor, as if the whole Earth is truly sacred and holy, along with everything in it.