Recently Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation shared an article called “Jesus the Lighthouse” from their their latest journal of Oneing, written by Josh Radnor, a 45-year-old actor, director, writer, musician, and a Jewish man. He is perhaps best known for his acting role playing Ted Mosby on the sitcom How I Met Your Mother.
He wrote of his approach to Jesus, which is unique since he is Jewish. He says his interest in Jesus really began when he had a mystical experience with “Jesus” a decade ago during an ayahuasca ceremony. For those who don’t know what ayahuasca is, he notes:
I began working with the Amazonian plant medicine ayahuasca back in 2007. Tribes in the Amazonian basin have been using ayahuasca—a foul-tasting brown brew [containing the psychedelic or entheogen known as N,N-Dimethyltryptamine, or DMT]—as a tool for personal transformation, physical healing, and spiritual growth for thousands of years. When ingested, ayahuasca catapults you into some overwhelmingly odd trans-dimensional space. You might vomit, your body might contort itself in spasms, you might be forced to stare into some deeply dark corners of your psyche—or none of that could happen and you can spend hours saturated in bliss. The menu of options is quite vast and the unpredictability of what lies ahead is part of what makes the start of each ceremony slightly terrifying. Whatever the course of your particular journey, when the effects wear off—for reasons I struggle to explain—you feel vastly more connected to the earth, to nature, to other human beings, and to yourself.
One of the interesting things he writes is that when you take such an entheogen, you are no longer a third-party in the spiritual drama, an onlooker, a casual or passive participant in someone else’s testimony (perhaps referring to traditional organized religion), but rather you become the protagonist, “you are Jesus in the desert, you are Buddha beneath the Bodhi Tree.” Too often we revere the spiritual experiences of others without going on our own spiritual journeys to know for ourselves, to experience it ourself. Radnor wanted to know for himself, and so he journeyed.
He said that over the course of a decade he did over a hundred ceremonies with ayahuasca. He says partly why he did it so much is because he was “rattled” by the success of How I Met Your Mother, with newfound fame and a loss of anonymity in the world. The entheogen became his refuge, something that felt deeply meaningful to him during this time of crisis, “when meaning and truth fell in short supply.”
He then writes of a particular experience which influenced his views of Jesus significantly:
It was through ayahuasca that my relationship with Jesus began in earnest. During a ceremony one night in 2009, I experienced a vision of myself at the crucifixion. Jesus was on the cross, near death. My heart was heavy with grief. Soon, I was in a small hut with a few people as we laid Jesus’ lifeless body out on a stone bench. My grief deepened and tears began to fall. Then, very suddenly, I was inside my chest and, in the darkness of my heart, there appeared a tiny light which began to grow and grow. I knew this light to be “Christ.” This Christic light then began growing brighter and brighter, spreading throughout my heart, slowly occupying every last nook and crevice.
I recall a moment of panic as the light began to spread, horrified at the thought that I was undergoing a conversion. How was I going to tell my parents that I was now a Christian? But the next thought calmed me. This vision, I came to understand, was not about tribe or sect or religion. It was bigger and more transcendent. Christ—as Richard Rohr so beautifully maps out in his recent book, The Universal Christ—is distinct from Jesus. I saw that the “Second Coming of Christ” is not a literal, material event. Rather, it will be taking place in the realm of consciousness, in the hearts and minds of human beings. The prophecy is that the compassion, wisdom, and healing capabilities of Jesus will one day be available to all of us—or could be. What else could Jesus have meant when he said, in John 14:12, “All these works I do you shall do, and greater works than these you shall do”?
It seems that the history of Christianity has separated Jesus from us. He was God while we are mortal sinners, redeemed only through the blood of Jesus on the cross. But, as I read the above statement, I hear a man saying, “You can do this too. Let me show you how.”-Josh Radnor, “Jesus the Lighthouse,” Oneing
Some similarities to Joseph Smith’s First Vision experience, and mystical experiences generally, seem to be:
- They were in a time of crisis in their lives, rattled, wandering, feeling lost and devoid of meaning, insecure in their soul, deep in grief, unsure and uncertain of the “truth,” perhaps a kind of dark night of the soul.
- They had an experience which began in “darkness.” Joseph seems to have experienced a mental/spiritual “thick darkness” since his took place during a clear spring morning, while Josh experienced a figurative “darkness in my heart,” and also a literal darkness, as ayahuasca ceremonies take place at night.
- It was called a “vision.”
- They were both in a place “near death,” Joseph experiencing it as being near the death of himself in the “thick darkness,” feeling close to “sudden destruction,” Josh as near the death of Jesus, but which he may have also considered as his own death, as noted above, being the protagonist in this spiritual journey.
- They experienced what was told or portrayed as the “crucifixion” of Jesus, his body being crucified.
- Suddenly there appeared a light
- The light began small and grew larger over time
- The light became extremely bright
- They associated this light with “Christ“
- The light seemed to fill and envelope their self
- Everything seemed to be filled and saturated by this light
- They both felt panic and terror during their experience, but at different points, Joseph prior to the light but which eventually was dispelled by it, and Josh after the light had filled all things, but which also was dispelled
- They felt a sense of calm and peace
- They both came to understand that the traditional religions were not what this was about. The “truth” was bigger than any single one of the religions.
- They had the insight that what the traditional religions taught about Jesus/Christ was not accurate, that what they were teaching was actually separating humanity from the true Divine, as Joseph put it quoting Isaiah and Paul, “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”
- They felt their mind/heart being carried away to a different place in consciousness, and that Christ would come, perhaps just as Christ had come to them, in this visionary conscious mind/heart space (see Hebrews 8:10, 10:16).
- They experienced the intuition that the gospel was something that could be “available” or “restored” to everyone
- They both quoted scriptures to help express their experiences
- They both seemed to “hear” Jesus’ voice through their experience, and felt guided into a unity of Spirit, being promised or shown how to do this work.
- They were no longer separated from Jesus. They had experienced this “Christ” first-hand in a very intimate and direct way. As Joseph noted in the days following his experience, “the Lord was with me.”