“You smiled at me like Jesus to a child.” ~George Michael
I’ve read the Bible more times than I’d care to admit, and definitely more than people who only know me tangentially would surmise. That’s because I hardly ever quote it, because you would never find me anywhere near a church, and because I don’t go from door to door proselytizing. Someone asked me the other day if I was religious, and I found myself saying no.
“I’m spiritual. Not religious.”
What’s the difference? That’s the simple part. Religious means tied up and twisted with organized religion, and whether or not the church I grew up instilled in me strong principles, I don’t think I’ve ever been religious. When we’re young our parents push us in certain directions, or we feel like we should follow those paths because of them, but one thing that always stuck out to me about faith was that it’s a personal thing. So, no matter how many people push you in a direction, it’s not your “way” unless you independently choose it.
And I have chosen more than once, since I’ve become an adult, to avoid organized religion. I’ve seen how so many faiths have no separation from the wide world, how often they don’t adhere to their own teachings, and how deep the divide is between members of the faith. I’ve seen the bickering and infighting, the dissensions and jealousy, and the ostracizing nature of many organized religions when it comes to those who are not “of the faith.”
So I’m spiritual. I believe in a higher power, in the rhythms of the world going according to plan because of some kind of divine intervention, but I think we all have the capacity to believe on our own. I believe that we don’t need to be around others in a conspired setting, in order to be our true spiritual selves. For me, it’s all about the individual relationship, which is why I always say I’m spiritual.
To me it doesn’t matter who that higher power is, or what form it takes either. I grew up with Jesus, the son of god, the one who died for the sins of the world as a gift to humans who can never be worthy of that gift. I grew up with Jesus becoming flesh and blood, and suffering unspeakable pain to ensure there was a chance humanity could be saved. A chance. I always felt that was crazy, that no one, higher power or not, would subject itself to this world, and what awaited in this world.
But I do sense a benevolence, a kind of parental figure who doesn’t give us what we deserve, who gives us what we need, and when we need it, even if we disagree on the methods and the response. I liken it to my relationship with my children. They are always asking for things, and they think I’m heartless when I say they can’t have what they feel is their hearts’ desire. I know better than they do, though, because I’ve been through it, because I care about what’s actually best for them.
Maybe God is like that. Maybe that’s a reason for Jesus to come down, to give of himself, to die for our selves. Or maybe it’s completely different from that. Maybe we just read these stories and ascribe a meaning to them that might not exist. Maybe these stories are just that, stories, not at all true, just metaphors from religious men who had a ready made audience.
And when I think of Jesus smiling, I think of a sad smile, one that realizes the breadth of humanity, where it will lead, and wants to keep us from ourselves and our actions, but who doesn’t want to be a puppeteer pulling strings. I think of a smile that is both tender and strong at the same time, because even knowing what is to happen, he is happy that he has given us the ability to think for ourselves, to have a full range of emotions, even if some of them are as sad as his smile.
When I smile I see the same emotions, swirling together. I see the past and the possibilities of a future based on our current actions. I see the love I have for my children, and the fear I have that their world view is already tainted. I see the world when I am no longer in it, and I pray that they will have the strength and fortitude to tackle that world. I pray that they will separate the two sides of that smile better than I have, that they will be as willing to appreciate everyone as individuals, and themselves as well.