"And [Jesus] said: 'Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.'"
Some of you guys may not know this, but I used to run with a Lutheran street gang. Went to Sunday school for ten frick'n years, thankewverymuch, and two years' worth of Confirmation classes before the Big Day. Comes in handy when I want to argue with Fundamentalists, which I don't do much of these days, and for cultural subreferencing, there's really no substitute (except maybe Greek mythology; Kellum and I can debate that sometime and y'all can vote.)
But I will admit to a completely ridiculous fondness for the book of Matthew. This is Jesus at his most awesome and quotable (outside the gospel of Thomas, which, oops, you haven't read because it's not in there. Gosh.) This is the story, as well-told as you're going to get outside of the Nag Hammadi Library. This here's he temple of the money changers, the triumphant ride into Jerusalem, the dark days before the Crucifixion and all the wild stuff that happened after. I mean, it'd make a good movie (oh, wait, it did). And it's full of quotable Jesusness that, when pondered, often lead to entirely different meanings than the ones they taught you in Sunday school. (Twelve years. Twelve years. And it didn't take. Truly, I'm ill.)
Let's take St. Paul, for example. No, he's not my favorite example, just the first one I thought of. In one of the letters to Thessalonia he says something like, "Suffer a woman not to teach, but to remain silent in the church." For centuries this line has been used to shut women up when they had problems with how a church was run, and was probably the justification to shut women out of the priesthood. But if you read the context, and consider who the guy was talking to, it sounds a lot more like he's saying, "Men (he's talking to men), don't expect your women to lead in the temple; what with raising your kids and keeping you dressed and fed, they have plenty to do already. Time to man up and be the leaders you're supposed to be." Yeah, not exactly a popular sentiment there. But that's what I get out of it. It doesn't make St. Paul any less of an ass, though.
Back to our friend Jesus. I have no problem with Jesus. Guy was cool. Long haired radical, wanted his followers to do what was right instead of what was popular, scared hell out of the ruling class and coined the phrase, "Get thee behind me, S*t*n." Jesus is still all right with me. (Oh yeah.) I just happen to be a Buddhist, is all.
So I saw this sculpture today of Jesus and the little children and it suddenly hit me, like it sometimes does totally out of context and with no warning, that our collective understanding of Matthew 18:3 is totally wrong. We assume Jesus meant that in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven when we die, we have to have faith like little children believe in Santa Claus, I guess. Be totally convinced with no evidence whatever that God loves us and will see us on the other side. But I thought, Hey. What if Jesus isn't talking about after we die? What if he's talking about the way we live?
Bear with me here because I'm gonna get all Buddhist-y on ya. There are Buddhists, and I are one, who would tell you that heaven and hell are right here. We create them every day, and every day we decide which one we are going to live in. (And, to some extent, which one we're going to create for other people.) In the simplest terms possible, heaven is the present moment. Heaven is when we are so focused on what's going on right now, right here in front of us, that we forget about the mortgage payment and the dress for Dinah's wedding and those 15 pounds we need to lose. When all we experience is the cute baby who's making faces at us or the pretty lady in the copper-colored skirt or the taste of hot Starbucks coffee on a rainy day. You know. Totally absorbed. Like little children.
And hell? Well, hell is--all those other moments.
Take right this second, for example. There's a pretty lady next to me in a copper-colored skirt - well, copper and black, actually. She's Indian and the skirt looks fantastic on her. It's light cotton but there's a lot of it and when she moves it seems to fly along around her. I'm not wishing I had a skirt like it or despairing of ever being as pretty as her or thinking that I need to go clothes shopping. I am admiring the skirt. And I am (gasp!) happy.
Yeah, it only lasts a second. But so what. There"ll be another one. Yep, here it comes; fat giggly baby, chewing on her fist and making faces and waving. And then I'm back into this blog post, which it feels like I've been working on for days now.
If you're a Buddhist, this is what you're shooting for. Not isolated moments of being mindfully absorbed in whatever you're doing, but being mindfully absorbed in whatever you're doing all the time. I don't know anyone who's been there, though I hear Thich Nhat Hanh has done it. And once, at work, I had a moment where everything suddenly sharpened in color and the living beings all kind of glowed a little and I started laughing because the whole world had always been that way and I just hadn't ever noticed it before. And I kind of thought, "Oh, is that all?" and then it stopped happening and I am not describing this very well, but anyway, it was nifty.
I bet Jesus felt that way almost all the time. I think if he were still around, he would look at us like we were crazy and say, "Guys, the miracle isn't me. The miracle is that all of you can do it, too."
Which is why you meditate, people. And if you don't, you can always start.