N. Daniel Author - Notes on Christianity
Updated: May 6, 2022
I left Christianity in 2011 after losing my faith in God. I felt I had been forced to leave my job. My life was falling apart and I just needed a new start, so I turned to eastern spiritual practices in Buddhism and yoga. I would not say I was the most devout practitioner. I did adhere to the teachings and found value in their philosophies. Eventually I lost everything after succumbing to severe mental illness. Some would have attributed it to the darker aspects of religion but I consider it to be more of a spiritual awakening. They say that when you become "awakened" it might feel as though you are losing your mind, losing your sense of direction as you are plunged into this new world and way of being. Like Solzhenitsyn, after I was left broken and alone I too felt this sense of freedom and open-mindedness. I could lose my home, my job, my vehicle, my sense of purpose and belonging and come out whole on the other side. It wouldn't matter what I lost as I knew starting over was liberation. There was hope in new beginnings.
I returned to Christianity in 2019 after volunteering at the Salvation Army in Minneapolis. I found faith there. It was funny but I didn't find it in the megachurches, the preachers or even local church goers. I found faith in the homeless, the workers at the shelter and even the disabled clients I cared for professionally in my career. Mother Theresa thought those who suffered were closer to God, perhaps to a fault. When we suffer God or the universe hears our plight and offers us guidance and comfort. People appear to help us. We are gifted with ideas and memories of love to see us through. I have seen it happen a thousand times. Through my faith I have been there for those traveling this cold lonely road. It is like prayer or meditation to act with compassion. That is a very Buddhist concept. With that being said I want to speak about the perspective I gained when viewing Christ from my new, eastern mindset.
When the Amish come of age they are allowed to leave their community and experience the 21st century world. Some of them come back and some don't. For a Christian this concept seems to be the missing piece in their practice. Leave your well protected theology. Study other religions. See things from their vantage point and then return to Christ with new eyes.
The first thing I noticed when I became Christian again was the most traumatic part of any religion, the passion of Christ. I was compelled by this pain. Instead of continuing to teach like other prophets Jesus died young. He only had this remarkable sense of pain and urgency to guide Christians through life. As though he was calling out to us, "No! You're going the wrong way!" I felt that within this agony lay the true teachings of Jesus. His suffering pushed humanity forward onto a new path. The pain of losing this incredible teacher rippled through humanity, nearly forcing us this way and that, both hurting us and healing as needed. How could we interpret this pain? What was God saying to Jesus on the cross and how could we decipher what that might have been? What did he see? What did he know? These questions swirled around my brain as I encountered Christ, seemingly for the first time.
Unlike Buddhism which promotes an end to suffering the only way to commune with Christ is to suffer, to know his torment and to understand that in comforting him on the cross with our own fear and empathy, we in turn heal ourselves. Learning to carry his burden for him is carrying the burden of our neighbors and loved ones. Healing him within ourselves is healing those around us. Jesus died so that we might not have to suffer in the same ways that he did, that living by his example would free us from this type of punishment. However, his example was a willingness to be punished for doing what is right. His example was being willing to feel the pain of others so that they might not have to. We need to continue this work, to protect those we care about from sins and bad decisions that might hurt them in the end.
Through the illness of a loved one I began to understand that the only way to really know Christ is to know him in the passion. How can we do that without knowing death? How can we place ourselves in that profound human condition? When I was eighteen I overdosed on drugs. When I was nineteen I attempted suicide. At twenty-nine I nearly tried again and at thirty-three I was diagnosed with stage three cancer. So, I had some experience with this feeling of mortality and loss. To me death became like the final communion with Christ, where we experience the passion with him. We would finally get to feel what he felt, to know what he knew. I felt he died on the cross to erase our doubts that we wouldn't ascend and then in his rebirth he would guide us to heaven. In the passion he would be there to comfort us as we passed out of this world. It became something very comforting for my friend and I.
The real mystery of faith for me was not whether or not Jesus really died and rose again. It was not whether he walked on water or whether or not he had brought Lazerus back after he was dead for such a long time that rigor-mortis had set in. Faith for me became being honest. It became being genuine. It meant having the courage and bravery to be righteous in the face of injustice, just as Christ had been. To be hurt in defense of those I loved and in my pain to find his love, his meaning, his value.
Eventually I hurt so badly that I found those lessons God had given him while he agonized on the cross. It was in the pain of loving my enemies, the hurt of abstaining from causing suffering and violence in the face of aggression and the agony of being asked to destroy myself when the devil made my life so difficult it felt like I was being tortured by unknown assailants. To know Christ’s peace was only possible when knowing his torment. To know his patience was only possible when understanding his frustration. To know his comfort was only possible when experiencing his passion. After some time I understood it was possible to instill these feelings in others but at such an awesome cost that it sometimes left me feeling debilitated. Turning this pain into wisdom and healing was Christ’s profound teaching, the one he so desperately tried to give us as he hung dying on that piece of wood. Yes, he would be there to comfort us but I felt our existence was also comforting to him as he suffered. I feel he knew we would be here.
Part of me remains Buddhist. Part of me remains Hindu. In understanding Christ I have also sought knowledge in Islam. I appreciate their teaching that the absence of their prophet in the physical world cultivates his presence within. I see Christ within myself now. I feel his passion. I understand his healing. Through the pain, fear and discrimination of humanity I suffer and yet also find his solace. As the Buddhists say there is suffering in Samsara. It will always be here and we cannot really escape that fact. What we must do is become alchemists. To find the meaning in the suffering by transmuting it into wisdom, into boundless joy. The devastation of Christ’s sacrifice continues to burn through the generations like a destructive bolt of lightening. As we ease this burden that was placed upon us we must always remember: Christians must not see themselves as the disciples, but as the same villains who allowed Christ to be killed. When we die we must accept that we are the people who caused his pain, that his pain is also our pain and that he died to teach us this lesson. When we treat our fellow man as though he is somehow separate from ourselves a Christ will die every day.
So many have come to this place since the crucifixion. I only wonder how many more will come until we learn to actually see Jesus, to understand him. How much longer will this Christian era of misunderstanding and living in darkness last? How many times will I have to watch innocent people die? All I am left with now is memories and slow movements from contemporaries at the homeless shelter, transitioning me from Buddhism to Christianity. After everything falls away I just ask myself how many more people have to die until we love our brothers? How many more will be killed until we truly understand Christ…