Friday, December 03, 2004

take up your cross and follow me

I was pleased to get so many different reactions, joking and serious, to my imitatio Christi question.

Although my brother nailed me for calling Jesus a "compassionate being," I don't think my phrase necessarily implied that Jesus was merely human. The term "being" can, for many people, apply directly to God (e.g., "Supreme Being").

Of course, being a nontheist, I don't believe in a literal, personal God, so it's true that I view Jesus as a man and not as God incarnate in the classical Christian sense. In my opinion, trinitarian theology works best when you think of the trinity as a metaphor, not as something literally the case.

The general consensus among my respondents seems to be that, yes, Jesus was indeed calling people to suffer, but the respondents differed on what this vocation means. I think the responses that factored in the historical situation of Jesus' time were closest to my own feelings on the matter, but ultimately, I'm not concerned about the possible contradiction between Jesus'/God's compassion and the call to suffer.

Kangmi quotes a biblical passage very much on my mind, Matthew 11:28-30:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Kangmi quotes this passage, I think, because it juxtaposes the yoke and the offer of rest. Paradox, indeed! Who speaks of easy yokes and light burdens?

For me, the fascination is in the synonymous imagery of the yoke and the cross. As any number of students of world religion have pointed out, the word yoga comes from the same Indo-European root as the word yoke, and even today the words have overlapping semantic fields. To follow the path of yoga is to yoke yourself to a set of principles and practices. This is what I take Jesus to mean: he's asking for nothing less than one's deepest commitment to the Way. The path to salvation will be a path of suffering, but suffering is always part of the human condition. The achievement of any goal, the fulfillment of any purpose, requires sweat, focus, and determination. The initial commitment to the Way isn't for the weak, and if you stray from the right path, you have to find your way back again and recommit yourself to staying on it. Whether Christ-yoga or Buddha-yoga (or some other yogic path), the important thing is to commit and persevere.


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