Whether you consider Jesus a real historical figure or merely an imagined apparition of our greatest spiritual aspirations, he had the ability to be far more altruistic during his time as a human than most beings.
When we examine the Gospels containing his words and actions, we clearly observe that with all the religious and spiritual devotion we have, with all of the churches erected, and with all the people of faith screaming “faith and faith alone,” we have had very little committed practice of “being” as Jesus was.
Why do I say this? I make this assertion because of how the human population is doing in our world at this very moment. All the obvious pain and tragedy worn on the faces of people of our society is clear evidence that heaven and hell have been eclipsed by human sadness and depravity of multiple forms.
People will say, “Well, God allows a certain amount of negativity, violence, and chaos to test us, or to show us something.” They believe this so deeply that beyond this realm of belief lies an absence of basic sanity that divorces us from proclaiming a proper Gospel. The hardest part of living the way of Christ, of having his mind, is getting into those psychological nooks that keep us from action and change.
There are a number of years unaccounted for in the story of Jesus. Whether he was in the east studying the Upanishads, sitting with Buddhist monks, or just taking an extended time apart to prepare himself—imagine him returning with the primary purpose of loving other entities, including his enemies. He immediately encountered resistance, and even now this is a test for any human being—to consider those who are in opposition to us as worthy of connection and friendship. It is our psychological barriers that keep us from developing the skills Jesus requires for connection with other human beings.
People often say, “Then tell me the process, the protocol, for loving others in the manner of Jesus, especially those we consider as a potential threat.” The process is to just “DO IT”. So often we think that we must follow the dots in a formal or protocolled sequence to arrive at an answer. This is not the way to cultivate genuine empathy. This is not the proper way to listen to the human beings around us. We simply must engage them, sometimes on the most uncomfortable plateaus of our own psychology. This engagement is what teaches us to how reach harmony or koinonia with other human beings.
So, we must push ourselves, just as we would in applying our will to diets, exercise, or completing a paper for school. If we are to do the “Jesus thing”—loving others and seeing our neighbors more clearly—we must psychologically push ourselves beyond our usual notions of grace, mercy, and compassion. Then, do the unthinkable, and act as Jesus did.
Dr. Cornel West once said, “Understanding is not a requisite for cooperation.” Jesus understood this quite well. This is the reason we find it so difficult today to do what Jesus did. We want answers, info, and data to determine whether making contact with or befriending other people is worth the investment. When we have minds that put everything through an initial battery of tests, this is certainly not a way to do Christ’s work.
Every day, in order to remind myself of our basic humanity, I reflect on a teaching of Bodhidharma, the monk who brought Buddhism from Tibet to China. To cultivate equality, he said, focus on two particular things when meeting any individual. One, we all have horizontal eyes. Two, we all have vertical noses.
What does this mean? First, when we focus on the eyes, we realize that they are windows to the soul. This is a living being, one of God’s people, no matter how different thy may be from us!
Second, focus on the nose. People laugh and say, “Why the nose?” Because we have so many preconceived notions about other people—how good they are, how bad they are—and as we get wrapped up in these thoughts, our breathing changes. When we don’t like something, our breathing becomes more exaggerated and rapid. When we’re comfortable, it eases. We can hold our highest prejudices or virtues in our minds, but if we hold our breath at the same time, which one is going to last the longest? Our breath!
So, when it comes to understanding our connection to others, let their eyes remind us that we all have a soul; and let their noses remind us that we all breathe God’s breath.
The differences outside of this don’t matter.