Our Walt Whitman Jesus


"Visions and dreams, illusions, mirages, chimeras. And now the painting of Jesus! There it is before him, just up ahead! His long-nurtured pernicious all-consuming obsession is now in his face--an animated cartoon, stretched out across the sky in his path. He knows it’s Marcellina’s Jesus, knows it’s just the portrait he’s been looking for, knows it by some insidious instinct. The face is Egyptian, for one thing, just as he had always imagined it. But now as he stares at the apparition it begins to move, shift about, a primitive kaleidoscopic slide show, one image morphing into another, then yet more, another, then another. In a stupor, he watches as the face, spread out now across the horizon, assumes different features, different shapes, different nationalities, colors, hairstyles: bearded, bald, oblong, squat, large noses, wide foreheads, smirking mouth, sad eyes, large ears, no chin, no forehead… Frowning faces, arrogant faces, benign and gentle faces. Old faces, young faces. Each one though, pre-eminently and decisively human, each in its turn likable or repulsive, depending on the whim of the observer. Each one limited in its essential human-ness, as faces inevitably are. Each Jesus face has its distinctive mark: stern, sad, somber, alert, furtive, regal, handsome, ugly, ethereal. It won’t do for Jesus to be limited by any of these imperfect specimens.

No one face will do for Jesus. I see it now. They all have their flaws. There can be no portrait of Jesus, now or ever. Jesus must forever remain faceless. Good thing nobody knows what he looked like, no, nor ever will. I’ve been wasting my time, looking for his portrait. Once you put a face on him, he loses his mystique. For every human face is imperfect, flawed, circumscribed by suffering and fear, yearning and passion, hope and delusion.

Still he’s not ready to draw the obvious conclusion: every man invents his own Jesus… It must ever be so, but this he cannot yet envision. Into his belated flickering moment of enlightenment another saying of Sasha’s Gnostic Jesus comes back, glowing with new dimensions of meaning. What was it now? Oh yes… Recognize the face that is in front of your face, and what is concealed will be revealed to you. For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed.

It’s at long last clear: the best portriat of Jesus may well be a mirror. For the face of Jesus is yourself looking back at you, she used to say. For what is Jesus but the highest and best that is within you? Or in others. Especially in others.

Every man’s face is the face of Jesus." ( .... from Return to Narnia)

It's not my idea, rest assured. No less a figure than Harold Bloom, distinguished Yale emeritus Literary Critic and insightful commentator on things esoteric, has written about the Gospel of Thomas. Its Jesus, he tells us, is unencumbered, whimsical and free--and has more in common with Walt Whitman than with the Jesus of the canonical Gospels. This is fitting, he goes on to say, for every American is really a Gnostic, even if he/she doesn't yet know it. It's the real American Religion, make no mistake. Which is to say that each of us thinks that he/she has a special handle on Jesus, is utterly certain that Jesus is his/her buddy, that He is a Good Guy, laid back and totally savvy, seeing through all the religious and political bunk we're subjected to.


Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?

Yes, we all answer. He understands our stupidity, knows that we won't be hassled, won't be challenged with any liberal nonsense, like caring for the poor and being good stewards of the "environment." And we all know that Jesus loves money, wants us all to be rich. And as for patience with the people, well forget it--especially if they aren't white, don't dress like us, or are of the wrong political persuasion.

Walt's waiting. He wants us to rediscover the poetic dimension of life, to recapture the faculty of Imagination. He (and we) know damn well down deep that our besetting sin now is not abortion, or gay marriage, or socialism. Rather, it's a creeping prosaic LITERALISM, which is making us stupid.

And "conservative," which is pretty much the same thing.

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