What is finding our identity in Christ?
As a young man, I experienced a wave of general interest in Eastern philosophies. Even in the cinema, series like Kung Fu, brought the family together in front of the television. I remember paying great attention to the teachings of Master Po to his student Kwai Chang Caine or little grasshopper.
Later, I read with passion the Bhagavad-gīta book of Hinduism and reflected on the Tao Te King (believe me, a marvel). At the age of 14 I started to study yoga and practiced it in his Hatha Yoga discipline. At that time it was a pure and deeply spiritual practice, unlike the western versions I know. I was a student at the Instituto de Yoga GFU in Trajano Street in Seville from the age of 14 to 19 and I combined this discipline with the Gospel. When I turned 19, I left everything and went out on mission.
Hatha Sun and Moon
To return to those years of discipline would require great resolve on my part. My practice was about bringing together the Sun and the Moon, the mind and the body to achieve balance. In the daily meditation work (dhyāna) we tried to silence the inner dialogue, to get a complete inner silence. It requires constancy. Only in this way would we come to know our authentic nature.
Today, everything is focused on the benefit it brings, the difference is subtle but decisive.
Dear reader, we are still in teancum, but the comparison between the vision of other cultures and the restoration is necessary to understand the magnitude and form of the gospel.
As time passed, which is an enzyme for metabolizing memories, I realized something. Yoga and its ascribed philosophy were leading me to the contemplation of the Atman, the true self. In the gospel, we can compare the Atman to the first intelligence, before we became children of God.
My work was focused on perceiving that entity, the elemental nature of the soul. Let us say that the condition of the marble before it came into the hands of Michelangelo or our condition before we were children of Elohim. That knowledge without words was enriching but partial, it did not generate a plan for understanding the world. Nor did it attempt to do so.
When I asked Ramon Rueda (my teacher Po) about the future of the soul, life after death, the answers were vague. He talked to me about reaching the Shamadi, energetic states and levels of consciousness. It was a spirituality without God, once life was over, everything was vaporous, inconcrete. The cleanliness and the fine technique of the daily practice was, as I extended myself to these questions, a slippery tale. At least for a Western mind like mine that was trying to acquire a more real sense of existence.
I don’t mean to underestimate other religious ideas. I simply recount the effect they had on me and on the search for my identity. It could well be someone else’s story or just mine.
Buddhism represented for me the extinction of the self, its dissolution. I don’t consider it a religion, but rather a technique and a way of understanding life.
Its divinities are abstract conceptions, very similar to the atomic and energy gods of today’s technological mythology. You can be an atheist and a Buddhist. In Buddhism, the attachment to our identity is samsara, an illusion and reincarnation is the way the soul is purified and ascends or descends in the scale of life.
Even today, I have great respect for these beliefs, recognition and admiration. I consider its practitioners to be sincere, wise and highly accomplished people. However, the benefit of such systems usually comes down to their practitioners. Unlike Christianity, there is no clear transfer to society, law or science.
Therefore, although I have affection, I am under another tree.
In my youth, from age 14 to 19, I had some crises of faith. Yoga provided me with effective achievements in its discipline, here on earth. In class, the theory of evolution hit my beliefs in the gospel hard. Sometimes I felt helpless and lacked arguments.
At that time I was not aware of the quiet work of the spirit. If someone had asked me why I was a member of the church, I would have given my testimony. But in my heart I knew that I was often active in the church, mainly because I was. That almost blind determination gave me time to know some things and to believe many things.
Our identity in Christ
At the beginning of my sainthood of the last days, I was not even aware of the 90% that the restoration offered me. Don’t think I was lazy in my study. The point is that our identity in Christ, which the gospel provides, is not so much a knowledge as a practice.
Sometimes we are content with the answers Who am I? Where do I come from? Where will I go after this life? and we have them, the gospel is full. They reassure us for a while, but the narrow path of their doctrine is not to provide us with an intellectual compendium of answers, but a change of nature.
For the question Who am I? there are many answers, a mind, a spark of the universal Atman, an evolved species, a citizen (Confucius develops it in his philosophy) a consumer…
The gospel tells us that we are children of God. But it works in a different and unique way with the question. It takes a leap over our nature and goes to the situation.
Wherefore, after he was baptized with water the Holy Ghost descended upon him in the form of a dove. And again, it showeth unto the children of men the straitness of the path, and the narrowness of the gate, by which they should enter, (2 Nephi 31:8-9)
The present condition
This kind of talk is unsurpassed. It is like the fruit of the tree, it is at the height of any arm. It’s not for an elite of initiates. Although it doesn’t appeal because of its mystery, it does.
Nephi does not speak of attaining elevated states of consciousness, but of a path and a door. He works on the present condition of the soul, does not go back to its origin, nor does he try to reach its substance. He shows urgency in continuing the carving initiated by the creator in us. It makes a great effort to nuance when it says narrowness and narrowness. Words that are frowned upon in our century.
The gospel does not encourage deviations. Its doctrine is transformative and life is just the time to realize it. On the path by the bar, there is not the idleness that is seen in the building.
The narrow door.
Nephi continues to speak of the practice of the initiate in discipleship.
And he said unto the children of men: Follow thou me. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, can we follow Jesus save we shall be willing to keep the commandments of the Father? And the Father said: Repent ye, repent ye, and be baptized in the name of my Beloved Son. (2 Nephi 31:10-11)
The voice of the Father chooses from all mysteries the repentance and the baptism in the name of his Son. This simplicity makes us wander through strange places in search of new and profound doctrines. However, the act of examining our soul, analyzing our deeds, involves meditating on who we are. It is a healthy unfolding that places us outside, in the second person, facing a sincere judgment. Without having to defend our ego, it becomes easy to detect our authentic form. The gospel works on behavior and in that task we understand our state.
The discipline of repentance requires practice, method and willingness. However, we often think that it is a matter of feelings alone. That these direct its action. Certainly feelings spice up and enhance the work, the heart is required in everything. But without the previous scaffolding of discipline sometimes everything escapes in good wishes.
The name behind
I was recently struck by a comment from my friend Carlos Barahona. He was coming to enhance the sustaining power that the name of Jesus Christ has.
Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore. (Moses 5:8)
To do, to repent, to call upon, everything in His name is to emulate His form in the dust of which we are made. It is to allow Michelangelo to chisel us into the shape of his genius. To acquire our identity in Christ is to surpass that of the simple marble from which we were extracted.
Our condition vs. constitution
The gospel does not stress what we are made of but how and where we are. Also in Genesis it places us more in how to behave in the world than in how it was made. In the book of Job, even though Job knew about Genesis, Jehovah asks him about creation.
Where wast thou when l laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? (Job 38:4)
Job was blessed with the riches and dominion of the world, but not in his understanding. He and we are better able to manage the world than to understand it. More gifted in how to live than in knowing why. His answer is sincere.
Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth. (Job 40:4)
Therefore the detail of our nature, as well as that of the world, is less urgent for our life than our present condition and state. I am not saying that we are exempt from its study and research, nothing further from our nature.
The terrible monster
Nephi’s brother Jacob masterfully describes how and where we are. He reveals something that sometimes takes a lifetime to understand. Despite having little space, Nephi does not hesitate to include his words.
O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit. (2 Nephi 9:10)
Like a particle accelerator, this life subjects us to a permanent collision with death and sin. We can ascribe to these two words a zero mass, saying that death is the end of life, then it is nothing and sin is a social convention then it is nothing, but that will not annul the great curvature it produces in our life.
Conceiving hope in this life receives all the impact of the facts. That is why many walk through life certainly subjected to a dark and gloomy landscape.
Recognize our condition.
Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin? (Proverbs 20:9)
Taking up that cross is necessary to be delivered. Underestimating our behavior nails us even more to it.
They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him: (For the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever) (Psalm 49:6-8)
I wanted to know who he was and for that I wanted to know what he was made of and how he was made. Yoga, a spiritual science, worked, like secular science, on that question. But the gospel focused me on the urgency of my condition in the world, as it did Job.
King Benjamin, in his last words, performed a feat. He brings his people to that knowledge
And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men. (Mosiah 4:2)
Our identity, who we are, is resolved by recognizing in the narrow path and the narrow gate, the salvation of our soul. By accepting that sin exists, we recognize that our past is inseparable from the present and that forgetting does not hide the facts.
Accepting that our errors and transgressions live on in time, understanding that the past fluttering of our faults creates an unsolvable «karma» places us in Mosiah 4:2. In front of Benjamin we recognize our broken promises, our disloyalties, the words we should never have spoken and that now fly like birds of prey. Who will be able to catch those swift wings once in flight?
Who will be able to say: I have cleansed my heart; I am clean of my sin?
This quagmire in which King David found himself is the quagmire of each one of us. The feeling of guilt is the compass that guides us towards morality and justice.
For those of us who like deep questions, we must recognize that the gospel addresses issues of urgency and not elaborate questions on the way to a meeting with King Benjamin.
Sidón o Ucayalí
As we drove to Zarahemla to listen to old King Benjamin, I talked to my friend Elorum. We were debating whether the clay from which we were made, according to the annals, was not taken, near where I was born, from the banks of the river Sidon. There is no better clay in all the land, as evidenced by the excellent vessels and every container that come out of the workshops in the area.
But Elorum advocated the Ucayali River. According to him, its red clay is unsurpassed and besides, its color is similar to ours (I would say it is similar to his but I refrained from commenting on it, I didn’t want to start an argument)
We followed that debate and it got heated to the point that we were called to silence because in our eagerness to reach a conclusion, Benjamin was speaking.
And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay. Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth; yet ye were created of the dust of the earth; but behold, it belongeth to him who created you. (Mosiah 2:25)
I looked to my left and said, «Elorum, we’re not like the dust!
I looked at him with amazed eyes, he shrugged. He came to me and said: neither your river nor mine.
Then what are we? I whispered.
My wife Acali, angry, spoke to me with her eyes as she knows, telling me: are you again?
Suddenly I heard Benjamin; he was about to communicate the words of an angel. That took me out of the wandering thoughts that so often dominated me.
And moreover, I say unto you, that there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.(Mosiah 3:17)
And then I knew, the potter had not finished making us, so we are not like the dust of the earth, we are still in his hands and he shapes us if we let him. It doesn’t matter if Sidon or Ucayali is Jesus.
I went back to Elorum, I had to tell him.
But I couldn’t, Elorum was shedding tears on his reddish skin, like the clay of Ucayali.