Living with Passionate Authenticity--Like Jesus Did

Thich Nhat Hanh tells us that in Buddhism, the energy that helps us "touch life deeply" is known as smrti, the energy of mindfulness. A careful reading of the Gospels reveals a Jesus who is full of smrti.

Jesus knows himself. He is mindful of his feelings and expresses them clearly and directly. He allows his emotions to empower his life positively. And he invites us to join him in this authentic way of life.

God seeks a spirit of truth within us, a spirit that can only be realized when our emotional life is integrated with our spiritual life, when we are the same person on the outside as we are on the inside. Jesus said in John 4, "God is spirit, and those who worship God must worship in spirit and truth."

Jesus makes it clear that emotional authenticity is the basis on which we build our spiritual relationship with God, because God knows our true identity inside and out. Jesus invites each of us to enter into this kind of integrated life.

Jesus began his teaching ministry on a hill surrounded by hungry, wounded people who yearned for meaning and fullness in their impoverished lives. They may have misunderstood why he came and what he was about to do. Yet, they were drawn to him, and he connected directly and intimately with them as he shared the blessings of God. These blessings, the Beatitudes of Matthew 5, focus on our emotional life -- our mourning, our passion, our fear, our suffering.

He started his teaching on the mountain by offering blessings upon our emotional authenticity. Jesus warns of false prophets, saying, "You will know them by their fruits. ... Every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. ... Thus you will know them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:15-20).

Relating spiritually to God in honesty and wholeness rather than in hypocrisy and deceit produces "good fruit" in our lives -- love and compassion, peace and joy, meaning and purpose.

Jesus follows this by warning against hypocrisy and dishonesty. He says, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven" (Matthew 7:21) -- a will that Jesus has made plain involves heartfelt genuineness in approaching God in faith.

It isn't God's responsibility to make sure we are living a well-adjusted religious life, it is ours, and our expectations help shape that life. Jesus didn't say he came to give us happiness, but blessedness. He didn't promise that we'd have an easy life, but an abundant life, one that focuses primarily not on religion or even spirituality, but on loving God and loving others.

It is only this sort of authentic spiritual approach to life that enables us to endure and even flourish in this world.

Living with passionate authenticity, as honestly and fully as the Passionate Jesus did, is the rock on which we can build meaningful lives, the foundation that brings us security and strength.

Adapted from 'The Passionate Jesus: What We Can Learn from Jesus about Love, Fear, Grief, Joy and Living Authentically' (SkyLight Paths Publishing).