In this episode I ponder our true identity in Christ. Then I explain how this can be experienced by means of meditation on scripture.
When I was learning and creating techniques of contemplative prayer thirty years ago and leading retreats in my church and denomination, my favorite form was guided scripture meditation. I used a variation on the Christian practice known as lectio divina. But instead of simply reading scripture and letting people meditate upon it freestyle, I guided the group in imagining that they were in the Bible story.
Very often I used a story from one of the four gospels, and it involved meeting and interacting with Jesus in our imagination. I would lead them to imagine that they could feel the Galilean sun on their faces, or smell the breeze off the Sea of Galilee, or hear the noise of the marketplace or the temple, or whatever scene we were entering. It could be quite a powerful experience to be in the presence of Jesus of Nazareth in one’s imagination.
Since spiritual awakening that happened a decade ago, my approach to scripture has changed because I have changed. I am no longer the I that I thought I was, and that changes everything. As the apostle Paul said, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” In this shift of spiritual identity one sees that one is not a separate individual. We are not separate from Jesus. We are one with Jesus.
If Paul is right when he says, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” then it means we – our true self - are Christ. I know that statement can be misinterpreted. Evangelicals hear me say things like that and accuse me of all sorts of blasphemy. But it is not blasphemy; it is gospel. “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.”
The “me” that I thought I was is seen to be not me. In fact it is not at all. In its place is Christ, who lives in me – seemingly in this body and through this personality - but equally outside of this body and in all people and all things. In him we live and move and have our being, as Paul said elsewhere. There is no inside or outside. There is only one Reality and that Ultimate Reality is Christ – to use Christian language.
When that is seen directly we see we really never were a separate self. That seemingly separate existence was just a blip in the mental pattern, a glitch in the program. We never really were who we thought we were. We are Christ, who is the one True Self through which everything is made and of which everything testifies.
When people think they are separate little mortal creatures with a beginning and an end, it produces all sorts of fears, anxieties and suffering. When we see that we are Being Itself that type of suffering is gone. It is the end of suffering, as the Buddha said. We may seem to be human beings – and in a relative sense we are - but in reality we are Being Itself, the Ground of Being, expressed as human beings.
When one wakes up to this reality and it is clearly and directly seen, it changes the way we read scripture. It changes the way I do lectio divina. It is fine to still do that form of guided meditation I was taking about a moment ago as long as you realize that is the ego relating to Jesus as an ego. But why imagine a little imaginary ego when we are so much more?
Now when I read the stories I enter do not imagine myself in a dualistic relationship with Jesus. I read the Scripture as the same Self that was in Jesus. I do not imagine myself as the first century carpenter from Nazareth, because we really can’t get into that cultural identity. I see as the Eternal Christ, which was Jesus’ true identity and is in us now, as the apostle said.
So what I am suggesting is that we read the biblical stories in Nondual Awareness as nondual awareness and not as a separate egoic consciousness. Not trying to get into the first century personality of Jesus, which is impossible, but simply be who we really are - the True Self – and then see what the biblical story says.
Let me give you an example. This month the Western Church celebrated the baptism of Jesus on January 8, although the church I attend celebrated it January 15. Many churches use the occasion to invite people to reaffirm their own baptisms. And that is fine, but tends to reinforce us as separate individuals. It perpetuates duality.
When most Christians read the story of the baptism of Jesus they look at it objectively to see what it has to say about Jesus. It is an exercise not only in duality but Christology, which is simply a collection of ideas about Jesus. But I am not talking about ideas.
I am suggesting is that as we read the story of the baptism of Jesus that we do so as the True Self. Do it as Christ in us. So when we read of Jesus being baptized, it is us being baptized. It is us as the heavenly dove. It I us as the voice from heaven. It is us as the True Self being made known in the baptism of Jesus. When we read scripture this way we see that this story is an occasion for spiritual awakening. It is a record of the spiritual awakening of Jesus of Nazareth, but can also prompt spiritual awakening now.
Spiritual awakening is not something that happens in time. It happens in the Eternal Now which is just as present in this moment as it was 2000 years ago at the Jordan River. In this way Scripture can be an opening to help people awaken, or at least help them taste a bit of that awakening, and thereby plant a seed that can grow into the Kingdom of God, as Jesus explained in his parable.
This technique of reading Scripture as Nondual Awareness can be used with any gospel story. For example, the story of Jesus as a twelve year old teaching the teachers of the Law. We are that Source from which that boy Jesus was speaking. We are the source of Wisdom from which Jesus spoke the Sermon on the Mount. That is the True Self of every person. Take the miracle stories of Jesus, like the Feeding of the Five Thousand. We are which is able to multiply loaves and fishes, or turn water into wine at the wedding in Cana.
Meditation on scripture becomes immersion in the Source of Scripture. It takes us into the One that is the inspiration of Scripture. Then every story in the Bible is about Nondual Reality. Whether it be the Creation story or the Burning bush or the death and resurrection of Jesus or whatever. Every inspired story of scripture can prompt spiritual awakening.
There is One Self. Jesus’ True Self is our True Self. This Self is incarnated in every person and every living thing and every inanimate thing. That is how I interpret the idea of reincarnation, which is so much a part of Eastern spiritual traditions. It is not that an individual soul is reincarnated in a unique succession of other individuals throughout history. It is that we – as the One True Self - are incarnated in all living beings.
We are the All. I am you and you are me. Christ in me is Christ in you, and this is the One and Only Self. That is why Jesus was called the One and Only Son. This is not about Christian exclusivism. It does not mean that Jesus was the only historical incarnation of God. It means that there is only one Self who is incarnated in all. That is why we are able to love our neighbor as our self because they are our self.
It is the same with the Christian idea of heaven, which is understood traditionally as endless individual existence. That is taking the symbolism of the bible literally. It is not that we are billions of eternal souls. Heaven is being one Soul, which we call God. That means we are intimately eternally one with all people– including our loved ones and our enemies. All One because we are that One Reality that True Self. That is truly heaven.
When we read scripture as our True Nature, then all scripture opens up its true meaning. It all points to the Nondual Reality which Jesus calls the Kingdom of God.