This is the season of Easter in Christendom, lasting some 50 days until what is called “Pentecost” occurs. Ideally, it symbolizes a season of Peace, Joy and Victory as part of the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.
For centuries the church has observed this season as millions gathered to celebrate the “rising of Jesus from the dead.” What does this really mean, though? Is it an actual rising of a physical body from death, or might it mean something other, even deeper?
I have discovered, through recent reading that such stories of “god men” dying and rising again after three days was not new with Christianity or with even Jesus, our “god man.” Various other countries surrounding ancient Palestine had such stories for over 500 years before the story of Jesus. Some even went back much further in time. These stories were known in Egypt with the god man Osiris, in Greece as Dionysus, in Asia Minor as Attis, in Syria as Adonis, in Italy as Bacchus, and in Persia as Mithras. Each of these figures also had virgin births, performed miracles, raised people from the dead, were violently killed in untimely deaths, and rose from the dead in three days to ascend on high. Interesting. (See Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy’s book, “The Jesus Mysteries,” 1999 by Three Rivers Press.) So what do we make of these stories including that of our own tradition with Jesus?
Freke and Gandy suggest these were stories, similar to Eastern ones, such as the Bhagavad-Gita, in which eternal truths were taught. As I discovered while studying in India and since my return, these stories point out the two selves in humanity; the lower, temporal ego bodily self, and the higher, eternal, True Self. The lower self, the ego, is what we normally think of as being ourselves in our earth walks. These selves are subject to all the dualities of living life on this planet; heat and cold, love and hate, pleasure and pain, sickness and health, being born and then dying. On the other hand, the Higher Self, the Atman Self, or in our tradition what I have called with others, the Christ Self, is the result of awakening, of becoming aware of that which is non-dualistic and eternal. In essence, this was the practice taught to me in the few ashrams I visited; to be told I have a Self which is beyond the ego and that I can experience it best in times of silence and meditation. It also can be experienced in selfless acts of love shared with others without the expectation of reward.
Since my return in 1987, I have sought to understand this teaching in the context of traditional Christianity. At times it brought me much conflict. When I would mention it to some of my colleagues, I was warned of being a heretic, a Gnostic pagan, and being outside the boundaries of the Church creeds of the 4th Century. I finished my pastoral career, however, by moving more and more toward teaching that each of us have and is this Christ Self. I sought to teach the thrill of living being to understand such and learn to live and experience it.
In the final years of my career as pastor, I stressed more and more the higher meaning of Easter as being the awakening to our Spirit or Christ Selves. I grew to see the season of Lent and Holy Week as times to move beyond the ego body self, in stripping away those things which are unreal.
So what then is the Easter celebration and season all about? To me I see it as a renewal in the understanding and experience of my True, Higher, and Christ Self. It can be the renewal of seeing myself not primarily as an ego body, but as Spirit, One with Creator Father/Mother/God, eternal, immutable, and beyond dualities. It is in this place and experience we can truly experience a “holy detachment” from things. It is here where a sense of deep peace and joy begin to permeate our very core, radiating through the medium of the body to the world around us. Easter is the season when I celebrate anew the understanding that God’s peace and joy are indeed mine by creation. We meditate on how we accept this in the glad exchange for all the substitutes we have made in seeking for deep peace and joy. We learn anew to die to the old self and to be born again into the new.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be a special season at all. Such an awakening can occur at any time. The season the church instituted is at best a reminder. At worse, it becomes just an outward shallow ritual of form and bodies that never discovers the heights and depths of the True Self. This attitude was enhanced by the Church’s capture by the Roman Emperor Constantine in the 4th Century wherein the Spirit Self was basically excluded, replaced with form and body. The church in those years literalized the story which it took from surrounding countries, then castigated by death and burning its teachers and writings.
Today, thankfully, a new freedom to think and reason has returned along with historical documents found and translated through modern language studies and technology. I see a future where the church can return again to a much deeper understanding and teaching of who we truly are, not bodies and forms with special preference to any, but Spirit, joined as one with the Sea of Spirit from Whom we were created as Eternal.
For now, we can learn to see ourselves in discipline as this Eternal Being, One with God. As I drove pass a church today, I noticed the sign in front which read, “Easter has come! You Will Live Forever!” I thought, how true, only the reality is, we ARE already living forever. Yet we either don’t realize it and forget how to apply it to our lives. In future blogs, I will seek again to help us apply and live it more faithfully with its peace and joy in our lives.