For those who prefer a straight theological bent or a social justice commentary, this will be neither. For those who eschew the woo-woo in life, the inexpiable spiritual stuff, the “weird feeling” kind of days, this post will not be your thing. But this is what happened to me. This is what I remember, and it’s what I’ve always remembered. This is about the day I met Jesus.
I was three, maybe four. It was a sunshiny day — the kind that glimmered with light and the blooms of warmer seasons. I was playing by myself (I was often alone) on the side street by my house. I was kneeling in the middle of the road when it happened.
Before you begin to be distracted by worry about why a three, maybe four-year-old was playing in the middle of the road, understand that I lived on a dead end street that was part of an algorithm of dead-end streets — it was one dead end upon another. Just when you thought you could go somewhere, you couldn’t. Strangers who turned off the main road into our little dead-end compound were caught by this trap, but they were few and far between. The locals knew our road went nowhere.
My house was on a corner of two of these side streets, and the one on the side was the deadest of all: not even paved, but dusty gravel, and ending, back then, in an undergrowth of vine-filled woods, a large field, a babbling stream — it was the sort of place a child with any sort of imagination at all could get lost in for hours, fighting bandits, playing discoverer, and later, maybe, kissing boys.
But on that day — that sunshiny day filled with light-dappled pollen floating through the air and the warmth on my back like a hug, I played alone on the side road, my mother just inside the house. I was content to play in the sun, and stood up to look at my feet on the pebbly ground. As I looked down, I suddenly felt a warm rush — different from the warmth of the sun — and felt that distinct feeling that someone large and friendly was standing beside me, on my right.
I will try to explain this as best I can. Imagine that you are standing beside someone — not touching, but very close to each other — and you close your eyes. Even though you are not touching, and even though you can’t see them, you know they are there because you can feel their presence beside you. You can even tell where they are and where they end in the space. This is what I felt that day, except my eyes were open. One moment I felt nothing. The next moment, I felt — but did not see — someone beside me.
It is important that you understand that this feeling was nothing but love. Knowing me, my hair was probably a mess and most likely, my legs covered in dirt. This was my usual state of being when I was a child. It was not a problem with this invisible person standing beside me. In fact, this invisible person felt entirely comfortable and easy, as if we had been together our entire lives, as if we belonged together. This invisible person almost felt familiar, as if I had been waiting for this very moment.
I looked down at my feet and saw my shoes. Again, you must understand: I did not physically see anything beside my own feet, but deep in my spirit, I saw an image: large, dusty, sandaled feet, right next to mine.
Someone was standing next to me, and I knew that it was Jesus.
This was not strange to me. As I said, it felt as if I’d been waiting for him my entire life. It felt as if we were old friends, and he’d finally arrived from some far off place after being gone for some time. Best of all, there was nothing I had to do or be, no part of myself I had to push down or ignore, and no mistake I could make that would make him not feel just as beautiful, as luscious, as warm and loving as he felt in that moment.
He came with no agenda other than presence. It was a moment of being, and that is all. While I could not possibly articulate the meaning of this encounter then (and probably still can not do it justice) it was about everything and nothing at the same time. There was no requirement of me. I did not need to pray certain words nor did I have to clean my knees. I did not need to “accept him into my heart” or decode the right behavior from the wrong. It was a moment of the most ultimate simplicity — and that simplicity was acceptance. Unadulterated acceptance.
That word — un-adult-erated. Suddenly, it makes more sense than ever before. As a child, I knew the love of Jesus required nothing, and so I gave everything. All of me. I did not need to hide or ignore or pretend about myself. Jesus wanted my presence, and Jesus was present to me. And that was all either of us needed. In that moment, everything was shalom. Everything was as it should be. He came in my loneliness, and I was no longer alone. And that was everything I ever needed.
But we adults — we try to add to Jesus’s presence, as if it were not enough. We decide that there are code words and acceptable behavior, like showing up for choir practice and not getting divorces. We decide that some of us might not be good enough, because we sleep with the wrong people or because we like or hate the current president. We adults, we think we know it all and really, we know nothing.
Jesus loves us all, all the time, but I think maybe we do better when we are un-adult-erated.
A little while later, as I knelt again on the gravel with Jesus looming protectively over me, a butterfly landed on my nose. I knew instantly that this was a once in a lifetime experience. I remember gasping, and going rock-still, staring cross-eyed at the beautiful creature as it slowly aired out its wings, moving them back and forth. As I stayed frozen in awe and wonder, I knew that this was a blessing from God — God’s hand on my head, and I heard Jesus (again — not out loud, but an impression deep in my soul) say, “I choose you.”
I had been chosen. I had no idea what for — I still don’t — but knowing someone (Jesus!) had chosen me felt like all I needed in the world.
That day has always been with me, a memory that I can not explain, nor do I wish to. It simply is. Best of all, I have no memory of Jesus leaving. I am pretty sure he’s been standing next to me ever since, even during those long stretches when I pretended not to know him. But that day — it was the start of something. Maybe the reason that day feels so sunshiny and glowy in my mind is because Jesus was in the air, all around.
The thing is, the choosing — it’s what God does. I am always powerfully moved whenever I read the Gospel account of the man who says, Jesus, if you want to, you can heal me! and Jesus says, I want to.
Jesus always chooses yes. Given the chance, every single time an opportunity to restore, to heal, to redeem was placed before him, Jesus always said yes. Jesus doesn’t turn a single person away. Even when we tiptoe up behind him, and just barely touch his robe in faith, believing we can sneak a healing, he turns and looks for us, desperate to see us, to know who we are, and to shower us with love and blessing and yes, healing.
Jesus always chooses me, and he always chooses you, too.
This is the Jesus I know, and the religion that I would come to experience later has very little to do with him. There was very little of Jesus in the church that excommunicated my father, or the choir director who kicked me out of the children’s chorus.
Throughout the years to come, God would swoop into my life periodically like a super-hero, rescuing me from various dangers, both perceived and real. It would be many years later that Jesus and I would have a moment in a small Baptist church in the city and make it official. Soon, I’d be steeped in the authority of men — and I’d lose Jesus.
Thank God in heaven, Jesus never lost sight of me.
This is the third installment in a series I’m writing called God Vs Religion.