“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes unto the Father except by me.” John 14:6
For centuries, the above verse from the Bible has been interpreted in such a way that has caused the damnation of millions of fellow human beings on earth to hell and damnation. It has been interpreted as meaning Jesus, a historical God-man who walked on earth 2000 years ago, as giving the exclusive right for any to connect with God the Father, as interpreted by the church, and be saved from eternal wrath. To gain this privilege, one must confess faith in his shed blood in order to escape God’s wrath, acknowledging you were a part of his awesome crucifixion, before a God who cannot tolerate anyone’s sins unless “washed away” by this perfect man’s blood. God loves us that much!
It reminds me of the late George Carlin’s monologue called, “Religion is mostly Bull—-!” in which he parodies this teaching. “God demands you confess you are a rotten, lousy, no good, totally depraved sinner and that Jesus had to die shedding his blood to save your rotten self. If you accept this, you will go to heaven when the world ends and the resurrection occurs. If you don’t, you will burn in everlasting hell forever and ever, in a never-ending torment, torture, with unending fires of wrath and terror! But remember, God always loves you!” This, George says, is “bull—-!” I have to agree.
Let me tell you why. The “I Am” quoted in this verse by the writer refers to our Inner Self, the Christ Self we all have as a creation by God. The “I Am” is us, in you, with you, the True You. Around 1990, I took my future son-in-law to hear the founder of the Himalayan Institute, Swami Rama, who spoke at the Buffalo State auditorium. After speaking, a young Roman Catholic man rose to ask him about this verse; “How can I as a Roman Catholic (or most any Christian) understand this verse as anything but a very exclusive and narrow way to Heaven?” And Swami Rama answered, “So who is this Jesus? Certainly it is not his physical presence or self, but his Spirit, which is also within you.” He went on to summarize its meaning as simply understanding the presence of Jesus’ Spirit within, and our turning inward to meditate and experience the presence of the true “I” within, the “I Am-ness which each person has.”
In the East where the ancient Hindu and Buddhist faith prevails, the word “Brahman,” symbolizing the Divine Source of all reality, is the same as I Am. It is the Source from which we came and to which we return. In order to connect with this Source experientially and emotionally, one merely meditates and breathes in this Identity, growing throughout our years on earth in its appreciation as a Spirit of peace and All-ness. Beyond words, the meditation and mental understanding of this I Am-ness brings us the ability to traverse all the trials and tribulations of life. Chanting Om or Aum is chanting the I Am!
Thus to me, it doesn’t make any difference whether there was or was not an actual person named Jesus who walked the earth 2000 years ago. It’s the message of our True Selves being this Presence, this “I Am-ness”, beyond the normal ego/body identification. And this message was not new to the era when Jesus is purported to have walked the earth; it was known ages before, taught and lived by other sages and sharers of the lunar based story as in the Jesus one we were taught.
To experience this I Am-ness, we simply remember Who we are and practice perhaps chanting the ancient words for “I Am”, “Om” or “Aum.” They mean the same thing. In John’s gospel, which most mainline scholars doubt the historicity of any part, the continual emphasis is on the “I Am-ness” of Jesus, the symbol of this Presence. Many articles have been written on the “I Am’s” of Jesus in this mysterious book. “I am the bread of life,” (6:35) “I am the light of the world” (8:12), “I am the gate or door for the sheep” (10:7), “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25), and “I am the vine” (15:5).
When one meditates, chanting the “I Am” or the “Om” or the “Aum”, one can more quickly be transported into this spiritual experience of Oneness with God our Creator, Father, Mother, Jesus or whichever you prefer. It is so simple yet so difficult for us to “see” and experience because we are so identified with ourselves in form and bodies.
As an Eastern teacher wrote: “To meditate in a state of I Am Brahman, one must understand Aum. It is the sum of all truth, the sound and call of creation, and where all creation begins and ends here on earth. This may be used at any time for peace by chanting Aum and Om.”
In the Fourth Century, however, the Church, taking over the authority of the Roman Empire, turned this teaching literally upside down. They taught the Presence of God as not within ourselves but outside, beyond, “up there” in the heavens. Only certain “certified, ordained priest or clergy” could give you correct guidance to get there. It was done by repeating approved beliefs and confessions with which we could have access to this peace and salvation. It was made very exclusive the right of the church authorities, to prescribe the right language and the right words. Later great cathedrals were built to honor the power and teachings, many of them equipped with majestic organs to thunder out its praise. I have no doubt that such devotion brings peace and a sense of transcendence; I have experienced it myself. But it excludes so very many; millions, billions, many of whom were destroyed in stark terrorism.
A few years ago my wife Naomi and I stood in the “Great Cathedral” in Salzburg, Austria. It was August 15, the Feast of the Virgin Mary. We could hear the thunder of three large pipe organs lining the interior of the huge, cavernous sanctuary. I was overcome almost to the point of tears feeling myself transported into another dimension. Suddenly it was time for the high noon mass and men began shouting, “If you are not Catholic, get out!!” Over and over they shouted it, symbolizing so well the exclusionary interpretation of the teachings of the early church. And so we left, as I felt like finding a quiet place and just chanting a few more “Om’s”!
The Church has taught since the Fourth Century that we are basically depraved sinners in our core. We still see that practice and repeated in hundreds of protestant churches making “confessions of sin” required in services. I refuse to do this; you are not an ugly sinner at your core; you are a beautiful expression of the Divine, you are One with the Divine; the Divine God, Brahma, in the I Am who created you to share Divine Love and Peace!
In 1986, the late Fr. Anthony DeMello pointed out to me how the church made the grievous mistake of forcing people to “eat the menu” rather than enjoy the food. The Bible, its stories, and the church at its best, are pointers to that which is within but we forced to sleep and not see it. “When the wise man points to the moon, all the fool sees is the finger!” he would say. We can’t see the light, the sun, the moon within our own Selves, our own I Am’s because we keep looking at the finger pointers rather than the Light they point toward. We’ve made it dependent upon rules, outward rituals, beliefs rather and simple but deep accessible experience. Learn to read your Bibles but with an open, receiving spirit and know when to put them down and just be, to be that I Am, the God you are.
Yes, sit often anywhere and breathe in the I Am, the Om, the Aum by simply watching your breath. “Be still,” as the ancient Psalm goes, “and you will know I am God.” People deeply long and hunger for this. We take drugs to experience it, spend millions of dollars to experience an escape and a high from it all. But it’s all within you, right now, right here, right anywhere.
While visiting the ashram of Sri Ramana Maharishi in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, South India, I read of one day when a visitor asked the Teacher, “Do not you want to leave this simple place and visit such majestic sites as the world’s ‘Seven Wonders?’: The awesome Himalayan Mountains, or the Niagara Falls in America?” And Sri Ramana replied, “Would I feel any more transcendent than I do by sitting here and chanting Om?”
Are you feeling overwhelmed with guilt, sadness, a sense of emptiness in your life? Sit quietly and repeat I Am with each breath. Are you searching and chasing for some lasting satisfaction in your life, something you could access close by and simply? Sit quietly and chant Om. Are you searching for peace and a sense of transcendent wonder? Sit quietly someplace and chant Aum. You will find the Way you have been searching, the Truth of who you are, and the Life we wanted so deeply to experience! You will be the gate, the vine, the door, the light, the transcendent eternal entity you have always been but were blind to it presence, simply within you, accessible at any time, any place. It’s the I Am, Who you truly are!
Offered by Rev. David G. Persons, to the 1st Presbyterian Church of West Seneca on May 22, 2011.