Well, my goodness, it seems I'm going to India in January 2016! Will wonders never cease?
And I find myself pondering Jesus again. I started a new book this morning, The Mystic Way of Evangelism. In the Introduction, author Elaine Heath defines evangelism: "Evangelism rightly understood is the holistic invitation of people into the reign of God as revealed in Jesus Christ."
That phrase, "...as revealed in Jesus Christ," got me to thinking about Fr. Bede Griffiths' and Mother Theresa's "evangelism" of India, their witness of Jesus as compared to the colonization evangelism of India, which required Russill Paul's dad to give up his Hindu name to become a Christian.
As I pondered for just a moment the difference between the two styles of evangelism, once more I heard a Voice (Jesus?) asking me, "Who do YOU say that I am Sheila? Forget your fears of whether or not I'm God's 'only begotten Son' (whatever that means). Forget about right or wrong expression. Forget about your question, 'Was that really Jesus, or just my Essence speaking?' Forget all that, and right here, right now, tell me about your experience of me. Who am I to you?"
I met Jesus "face-to-face" so to speak when I was 40. Already some of my spiritual foundations were beginning to crumble and my physical life was a mess. My oldest son was away from home in the Army with the first Gulf War brewing. My middle son was in the hospital in Houston. My dad died, and my husband left us. I was no longer my Daddy's daughter, or my husband's wife, and I was quickly becoming a mother to grown children. All of my identifiers were on their last leg, but I didn't know that yet. All I knew was the thing I wanted the most was to have a husband, a real partner who would love me and not leave me, someone who would help me make decisions and someone who would love my children as much as I did and who would "be there" for them as they became young men - someone who wouldn't leave them, either. I needed someone who wouldn't walk out on us, someone who wouldn't desert us, but instead would love us. That's what I needed from Jesus. And his answer to me was, "Here I am. I won't leave you or desert you or your sons. I will be a husband to you, your life partner."
And that's what Jesus was to me for the next 10 years or so; he was my husband, my Beloved, my partner, lover, friend, encourager; whatever I needed on my journey through my everyday life, Jesus morphed and filled that need. Interesting as I look back, it seems he put ME first. He never made any demands on me, but would instead invite me to make the harder choices, to take the more difficult path, but he never once insisted that I be a "good wife, a good mother, or a good Christian". He just stayed with me.
Then a shift came, and I lost my definition of him. He lost his "shape", and I could no longer find him. Again, in retrospect, it feels as if he said, "I [Jesus] must decrease so that she [Sheila] can increase." He stepped out of my line of vision, left the role of "leader", and pushed me forward with, "Who are YOU Sheila? What do YOU want from life? Who do you want to be? Don't ask me anymore what I want you to be. YOU have a choice."
Then Jesus literally went silent for a number of years. Truthfully, he doesn't talk to me nearly as much as he used to. But I still feel his nearness. Jesus is loyal to me. Jesus supports my heart and my dreams. Jesus defends my right to make my own choices, even about him! He encourages me. HE GIVES ME PERMISSION! He doesn't say "no" to me. Shoot, when I wanted to go check out the Catholic Church, he said, "GO!" If I want to learn about Buddhism, he puts a book in my hands and a Zen Roshi to teach me. If I want to explore other spiritualities rather than my Christian roots, he beams at me, smiles, and says. "Go for it!"
By this time, Jesus is beginning to look a lot like Jim.
Neither Jesus nor Jim ever doubt me. Jesus never says to me, "No you can't." He TRUSTS me to make my own decisions and my own choices. He blesses me and challenges me with , "Go ahead! You can do it!" Shoot, he even works behind my back lining up little synchronicites that show up later so that I know he's still there, in the background, loving me and supporting me.
So maybe that's why I can't answer like Peter. Maybe that's why I can't figure out "who" Jesus is. He's NOT what I expected. He's different than I was taught. His expectations of me are different from what I had been told they were. He didn't say to me, "Lay down your life," nor did he say, "Pick up your cross and follow me." Instead he said, "Sheila, you have a brain. You have hopes and dreams. You have two legs and two feet. Take up your mat, your own life, and WALK. BE! Become who you were intended to be, not who you were EXPECTED to be! BE YOU, BE SHEILA"
And at times that has been the scariest thing ever. Jesus turned my tables upside down. He sat before me an unmarked path and told me to forge ahead and to make my own way. He told me to explore, to go on an adventure, and to evolve! And that wasn't what I expected at all.
And right now at this moment, I seem to hear him say, "You are all together lovely my Bride." And he chuckles.
Tonight at St. Timothy's, we begin The Daring Way, with the motto, "Show up, be seen, live brave!" And THAT'S what Jesus has done mostly in my life, double-dog dared me to be myself, to live unafraid, to go ahead and be that Dissident Daughter instead of that Proverbs 31 woman. Yes, Jesus looks more like Jim every day.