Excerpted from a forthcoming book on my monastic journey.
At 3:00 on the afternoon of the retreat, I joined several sisters in a conference room for a guided meditation. Afternoon sun poured through large, west-facing windows. We all shifted to get comfortable and closed our eyes as the oldest sister told us to relax and take deep breaths. Then she asked us to imagine meeting Jesus.
At first I smelled sea air, heavy with salt and rotting organic matter. I saw a girl sitting on an old boat, overturned in the sand. Then I was the girl.
Distantly, I could feel my butt sunk into a chair in the monastery, but the vision was very real, and a lot more sensual than the usual guided meditation. I could taste salt in the air and feel my bare heels drum the side of the boat. Sand slipped under my feet as I ran to greet the man standing at the shore Later, as we walked to a road with our arms about each other’s waists, I heard the chatter among people gathered at a roadside market.
After the sister drew our meditation to a close, she asked us to say what had happened. I said I’d been a girl on a beach. Jesus had walked by and I ran to him. He said, “Leave all that and be mine,” and I said, “O.K.” I mentioned that it was interesting Jesus said “be mine,” not “follow me,” like in the Gospels.
I didn’t mention the sexual honey that had flowed between us or that I was still warmed by it.
* * * * * * * *
It was 4:00 by the time our meditation was done. The sisters scattered to their offices for a bit of work before prayer. I just went to the oratory and sat down. The intensity of my meeting with Jesus had left me wrapped in a blissful fog. When prayer started, I stood and sat, bowed and chanted, paying no attention whatsoever. Until a line from First Peter leapt out, “through Christ you came to trust in God,” and I was jerked back into myself.
Yuck! What exclusivist Christian jargon!
“No one needs Christ to trust God.” I grumbled to myself, “I sure didn’t." At that my mind took off on a familiar tirade. "Why do orthodox types always insist their religion is the one true way, yet their only arguments for this boil down to ‘because it is ours’? Don’t they realize every member of every other orthodox religion is saying the exact same thing?”
“You can’t have it both ways,” I continued, as my eyes drifted past the reader to fix on the cross, “If ‘Christ’ is some universal aspect of the Divine All, Christ must have appeared many times under many names on earth alone, not to mention all the other planets. If Christ only appeared in Jesus, then at best Christ is a very local, very limited facet of the divine. Those are the only choices: universal and all over with many names, or just once and local.”
At that, Jesus rushed into view, swamping my vision. His eyes danced over a mischievous grin, like a little boy who’d sprung a delicious, practical joke. Oh great! Jesus thought all my grumpy logic chopping was simply funny.
Then I realized: his look was familiar. I knew those eyes and that grin.
* * * * * * * *
Years before, around the time I’d had the vision that sent me from DePaul, I’d become aware of my own soul. It felt like a stream of light flowing into the top of my head and down through my whole body. At that time I did a chakra balancing exercise every morning. It felt as if my soul flowed from the energy anchor above my head. There the soul light blossomed out, while beyond that point the sense of “me” thinned and disappeared. A youth stood at the blossom point. He had a wide grin and a mischievous personality. I called him “Laughing Boy.”
For a while, I busted my mind wondering if “Laughing Boy” was a personification of my soul, an angel-like helper being, or simply a figment of my overactive imagination. I’d long since given up worrying about it.
Yet now this Jesus - with his wide, joking grins - looked and felt the just the same.
“Wait,” I said to him, “Are you saying that’s also you? You’re Laughing Boy?”
Jesus grinned even wider and then laughed aloud.
Sheesh. All these Christians talked longingly of the day everyone would be “one in Christ.” But this was way too much oneness for comfort. I was lost in a tangle of self-referential paradox.
* * * * * * * *
The canticle started and my focus shifted back to the oratory. The canticle text was also from First Peter: “Even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.”
In my mind, I began to laugh along with Jesus. I was fit to burst with inexpressible and glorious joy. “Luckily, I have seen you,” I told him, matching his grin with one of my own, “Because as you doubtless know, believing without seeing is not exactly my forte.”
As prayer drew to a close, Jesus vanished. Before turning to leave, I bowed deeply to the cross, suffused with gratitude to the one who had called me.
* * * * * * * *
That night was clear and soft. I felt restless so slipped from my room. Everyone else had already gone to bed.
The monastery sat at the foot of a large hill. On the other side, a scrubby field of old, dry grass was dotted with baby oak trees. I walked up and over the hill. A gentle wind carried the smell of moist soil and spring promise.
I lay on the ground in the baby oak field and looked at the stars.
What was with this desire to surrender to Jesus?
The call was a cord of light. The soul energy streaming into my head was a column of light. Both were indistinguishable from the light of Christ. All were infinitely enticing. For years I’d prayed to more fully shine that light. Could surrender to Jesus be the way?
My rational mind could make no sense of this. It ran back and forth like a panicked rodent in a cage. Yet I felt as calm as if I were on a very straight and right road. I thought of a line from Norman Fischer's zen version of Psalm 23: “You lead me down… The path that unwinds in the pattern of Your name.”
I lay in the field a long time imagining I could sleep there, but finally returned to my room and crawled into the hard monastery bed.
© 2007 R. Elena Tabachnick