My mother died some years ago and she didn’t have what they call a “good death”. It’s a strange phrase, a jarring misnomer designed to ease the pain of loss. But there was nothing good about this wonderful woman’s passing.
She had dementia and I watched as her mind retreated into God knows what and God knows where. Childhood perhaps, or fantasy, or nowhere. She eventually fell asleep and remained in that oblivion for two weeks. Then she died.
But whenever I looked into her eyes, the eyes of someone who had shown me nothing but unconditional love, I could still see the spirit, the essence, of the great, grand person who was my mum.
Sheila Coren had little time for organized religion, but I do. And I know that some regard this as deluded, that God is akin to the tooth fairy, and all the rest of the insults. I am many things but I am not naïve, not unworldly, not stupid.
I believe in the Christian God for a whole variety of reasons, some intellectual and some not, and while several of the greatest people I know are atheists, the greatest of all of the people I know is the one who founded Christianity 2,000 years ago.
He was a young, Jewish man living in occupied Palestine and he preached not change but revolution. The world not reformed but born again. He was the Son of God and for making that claim He was abused, humiliated, executed. This personification of love, justice, forgiveness and inclusion rose again. You don’t have to believe that, but I do; because it makes so much sense to me and informs and gives meaning and purpose to my entire life.
But if Jesus demanded that we love all and everybody as ourselves, and if he insisted that we look to justice rather than gain, and to kindness rather than condemnation, why does the church so often appear cold, harsh and distant? It’s a vital question.
I think of Jesus Christ as the perfect gift given to humanity, but we wrap it either in gaudy, child-like paper or dark, thick cloth. In other words, we obscure and disguise it.
We put law before love, ritual before relationship. Yet there is a middle way, a via media, where that gift is revealed for what it really is. It is the Prince of Peace, serving as a conduit between God and us, lighting a road that is happiness and fulfillment, a road that is curved and sometimes difficult but always worth the walk.
He didn’t mention abortion, homosexuality, contraceptives or euthanasia, but he did expose and condemn hypocrisy, selfishness and the dangers of wealth, anger and inequality.
He didn’t speak of the free market, but he did reject those who transformed a place of worship into a market of profit.
He didn’t obsess about sex, but he did welcome and embrace those accused of sexual sin.
He didn’t build walls and fences, but he did insist that we rip down all that might separate and divide us.
He didn’t call for war and aggression, but he did demand we throw away weapons and all that might hurt or kill.
This is the man whom I worship, and as I do I try to remember my mother’s eyes and see once again that sprit and that great, invincible love, cutting through the pain, the suffering and the confusion. That is my Jesus: cutting through the pain, the suffering and the confusion of this broken planet and pulling back the curtain to show the splendid truth of the world’s possibilities.
A longer version of this column originally appeared in The Toronto Star. Michael Coren is an author, columnist and broadcaster, and also a postulant with Niagara Diocese.