Back then, I believed that all the energy manifest in the world was Divine in nature. A genderless, inhuman, unfathomable God created our Universe and human consciousness. Sure, Jesus Christ is the Son of God, or an incarnation of God in human flesh. Many worship and serve him. That’s great, more power to them. Some other incarnations of God are Buddha, Krishna, Rama, Shiva, and Allah. I believed in reincarnation and the notion that karma is created by our actions (sins, good works, and everything in between). Once non-duality is realized, this illusory separation between Us and God disappears and we reach Heaven, also known as Enlightenment.
I met a guy. Girl met boy. The twist was, he believed wholeheartedly in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He knew absolutely that Jesus’s virgin birth, sinless life, miracles, and death on the cross provided for His redemption, resurrection and ascension into Heaven, and eventual return to Earth in power and glory. Yes, this guy I met trusted as irrefutable fact the in errancy of the entire Bible. Worst of all, he had ultimate faith in the fall of man. So, naturally, he believed in a black and white list of conditions for salvation: no on can enter the Kingdom of God unless that person is born again! Our redemption has been accomplished solely by the blood of our Lord Jesus! The new birth of the believer comes only through faith in Christ! P.S. No other acts, such as confession, baptism, prayer, or faithful service are necessary. JUST BELIEVE.
Of course, I did not know any of that when we met, which was on an airplane one faraway June day. With my permission, he sat in the seat next to me and said, “Whew! I’m so happy I don’t have to sit next to some fat guy.”
“What do you do?” he asked, buckling his seatbelt.
“Yoga,” I said.
That sent up a red flag for him, he told me later.
When I asked what his sign was, he said, “I don’t know. I don’t believe in the occult.”
“Astrology is not a cult,” I said.
“No, occult. Like, pagan.”
Despite that strange beginning, despite his orthodox Christian belief system, despite my “pagan” tendencies toward yoga and tarot cards, we somehow connected. In our short time together, he would alter my life. He would influence my spiritual path more than any other guru, lover or acquaintance.
I’m pro-Jesus, don’t get me wrong. I just don’t think most of the things currently done in his name have much to do with the essence of his teachings. My first experience of Christianity was in the Catholic church. The One True Church. (Funny how they all say that, isn’t it?) Mass was always the longest, dullest hour of my week, dark and chilly and so much superfluous standing and sitting, monotonous singing and robotic humans crossing themselves. The only part I liked was kneeling after communion, pressing my elbows into the sleek wood of the pew in front of me, just like the grown ups. I delighted at the whoosh of the rust-colored vinyl pads when I pressed my petite knees into the miniature benches. But the biggest rush of pleasure was always at the end of the service when the priest stepped forward, spread out his robed arms and said, “Mass has ended. Go in peace.”
A tornado hit my school when I was in third grade. I thought I was going to die, and I was not okay with it. I had no moment of solace, saw no tunnel and no light. The storm ripped the roof off the cafeteria, then spun away on its merry path. No one was hurt. No one died. After the tornado, I tried to find meaning in Mass, to make sense of the mechanical recitations, the sermon. The kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever. I tried to wrap my mind around eternity. Not a good idea. I had obsessive, disturbing, cyclical thoughts of eternity. I’d fixate on the image of the planet spinning into a starless infinity. How could time just keep going on and on and on?
And Jesus was a gaunt figure nailed to the cross who had risen to the right hand of God. But Jesus WAS God, too, and also some invisible Holy Spirit? Confused, I quit going to church in favor of practicing yoga quietly in my bedroom in the seventh grade. I had become a yoga teacher during college.
It was 2004. I was a full-time yoga evangelist in the San Francisco Bay area. From the age of nine, I had rejected the divinity of Jesus. Then I fell for Christopher.
I was so naive. The airplane bounded down the runway as we passengers said silent prayers to our chosen gods and ascended into the blue emptiness. “So you’re a Christian, huh? What a damn shame.”
Not only was he a Christian. He was really, really Christian. In his early twenties, he and his brothers had formed a Christian acapella quintet and toured the nation singing gospel songs.
He went by Christopher, not Chris. I began to see him as Christ, not consciously and not that first day but that’s when the seed was planted. It had to be destiny. Same airport, same airline, same destination, same row. Our paths were meant to cross.
He was cute and kind, albeit a cultural rarity — a virgin who had been homeschooled and never cussed. On the day I met him, Christopher was thirty-one years old and had never kissed a girl.
I had certainly not saved myself for marriage.
I said, “Seriously, you’ve never been kissed? Well, I’m going to have to kiss you.”
He said, “No. But I will hold your hand.”
I was a seahorse encountering a Shetland pony on Saturn. We had no framework from which to comprehend our divergent mindsets. Christopher is a Christian virgin who’s never had a drink (except an O’Doul’s once which I informed him does not count). Christopher has never smoked anything. Christopher eats meat. Michelle is a 24 year old from Texas, miles from virginity. She is an avid social smoker. A left-handed Gemini, Michelle drinks like a fish.
But we couldn’t actually communicate like real people. We only thought we could.
When the plane landed, I said, “I’d like to go to church with you sometime.”
And I meant it.
I borrowed The Bible for Dummies from the library. I wasn’t about to read the actual Bible. That would take an eternity! I just wanted to know what the silly thing said so that I could prove that it was ridiculous to believe in it literally.
For our first “date,” Christopher and I talked for hours, sitting on the carpeted floor of my bedroom at a reasonable distance from each other. Then we were lying side by side on my bed, not touching. He told me he’d been saved at age four.
When I couldn’t stand it any longer, I kissed his cheeks, his chin, his forehead, the corners of his lips. Finally, he kissed me on the lips. He spent the night.
We went to Santa Cruz and walked down the beach arm in arm. He didn’t ask, but I told him how many guys I’d slept with prior. (Seven.) I said, “You are…so much…better than any of them. They treated me horribly. But even if you heap all of their negativity together, it wouldn’t hold a candle to the… goodness of you. It’s as if they never existed.” He told me the top five things he loved about me: I was “classy and sassy,” he loved my honesty, flexibility, open-mindedness—and my legs. I ate it up. Blinded by lust, I tried to read the New Testament and visualize a life of missionary work. He said, “I love you,” on our seventh day. I was surprised, but I felt it too, so I said it back.
We spent every night together, no questions asked. I thought he was so wonderful and pure, so unconditionally loving. Everything felt natural with him. I never felt uncomfortable or emotionally endangered. Even though we were not having sex and wouldn’t until our wedding night (which I became convinced would occur sooner than later), we started getting physical on the first night and it quickly progressed to where there was nowhere else to go.
It was lust, not love. Mercy, not metta.
I fretted a lot over whether or not I believed in the supernatural aspects of Christianity (virgin birth, resurrection, purgatory, and the like). I said the Hail Mary sometimes. I was already —and am now— a yogi and a staunch a believer in universal energy, something more vast and all-encompassing than the human mind. The “divinity” that dwells within and without us.
I badly wanted to be open to Christ, especially because that was the way to clinch Christopher. Back then, I got all caught up in whether being open to Christ meant being Saved By Him And Denouncing All Non-Believers As Hell-Bound.
I knew it didn’’t. I never wanted to be saved.
But I loved him. I looked at him lying in my bed every morning and touched his face and almost had to pinch myself because he was such a wonderful angel and beautiful presence in my life. And yet, we disagreed on the most fundamental of philosophies. I couldn’t be a heathen and go to hell while my one true love evangelized and ascended to the pearly gates. He came with me to a yoga class once, but was too weirded out by the Sanskrit chanting at the beginning of class to ever come back again. Yoga was a false prophet in his eyes.
Our last date was a funeral. “I want you to come, because…you’re like family to me,” Christopher had told me.
I wore my only high-necked dress. I tried to emit the good Christian wife image. Everyone was dying to know who I was. When’s the wedding? She’s not wearing a ring. Is that a nosering?
Inside my head, I’d been fighting opposing factions for the two months I’d spent with Christopher. The initial giddiness of falling into infatuation, or love, or intrigue, or whatever the hell it was had faded. Now I was left with confusion and sadness. On the way home from the funeral, I told him, “I think we should take some time apart.”
We agreed on a week. I ached for him. I wanted to go back and hijack that airplane. Fly across the globe, away from his judgmental family, his ludicrous church, my incredulous friends.
I’d altered my spiritual beliefs because of him; he remained unchanged.
He couldn’t accept me, my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects, beliefs and practices, my sin and my good nature. His mind was made up.
Now, years have passed since that experience. I moved back to Texas, had a momentary nervous breakdown, became a school teacher, learned Spanish, studied yoga in Austin and in India, and finally moved to Guatemala to become an international teacher. (Christopher has had his own, bizarre saga unfold.) Now, as then, I aspire to the highest Christ-like qualities of compassion and forgiveness. I think all the sins being committed in Jesus’ name today are a goddamn shame. They are the result of rampant greed and intolerance. Jesus was not about judging, or misusing, or exploiting or destroying people or things. He was about love.
In the end, my disdain for conservative Christianity reminds me what I love about yoga and Buddhism. The absence of dogma. The truth in the breath, in the present moment, in learning to quit beating ourselves up — because we are not broken, sinful, lowly beings, we are children of the universe, with hearts like Jesus, regardless of whether we have “accepted Jesus” into our hearts. We are perfect in our imperfections. We are all on the path to balance, peace and enlightenment in our own ways. Religious or not, these beliefs continue to sustain me.