On a recent business trip to San Francisco, while on a walk with some coworkers to find food, out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of this man sitting with his dog, panhandling on a street corner. The serenity of the scene in the midst of a sea of people hustling along in fulfillment of their obligations (including myself) pulled me away from the busyness of the moment as the imaged filled my mind.
But I kept walking. Finally, out of compulsion, I stopped and told my coworkers I needed to go back and would catch up with them later. I carefully took some pictures without being too intrusive. I was taken in by the pure kindness these two beings were sharing. I talked briefly with the man and told him I couldn’t resist taking a picture of him and his dog and that I was appreciative. He told me her name but, sadly, I forgot it. I gave him a little money and moved on. But that moment and image were seared into my consciousness. After looking at the picture again and refining it a bit, I got to thinking about what was being communicated to me through the image.
Upon reflection and looking through my spiritual lens, that is in part rooted in Christ’s teachings, it struck me that in that moment and in this image was a representation of those teachings. And then I was hit by the realization of the extraordinary dichotomy of this image and its Christlike representation in comparison to the doctrines and theologies that dominate our religious lives. Where I fear, the simplicity of Christ’s message of love and our “oneness” gets lost–Mormonism, in my case. Take this setting with this man and this dog unaltered and place it within the walls of one of our temples and you have an image of disturbance. Neither he nor the dog would be welcomed into what we call the Lord’s house filled with worshiping saints dressed in the symbolic white of purity in the belief that God gives them his full glory as they are in possession of the dress and “credentials” earned through obedience to the dictates of those of who claim to speak on his behalf. This man is most likely not obedient to those things that would qualify him to obtain the necessary credentials to allow him to bask in God’s full glory from this theological perspective. Yet the dog does not seem to care and she holds nothing back from the man; metaphorically speaking, Christ imagined.
We may see no useful purpose in the man’s life or actions, we may judge him for his choices. If we do notice him, we may see a man in need of saving. Yet we know nothing of him or his life for we do not walk in his shoes. But if we look closely enough, we can find a teacher. A teacher that brings awareness of the divine that not only exists within him and the dog but in ourselves as well. A reminder of the oneness that we all share, once the layers of a mind caught in the narratives that separate one from the other are stripped away. Revealing our naked beauty through his naked beauty. What greater gift could he give, what greater worth could he exhibit?
Moments like this bring me to the realization that Christ exists within all and that teachers of the “Christ within” do not exist as a matter of appointment, authority, privilege, association, or sanctity. They are in our midst in many forms, speaking to one of us in one way and to another in another way. So that all can be reached. But this teaching asks nothing of us from a theological or doctrinal perspective. It is not “the thing”, it is simply a pointer. So it seems religion should be the same; in this way we expand in our divine expression while allowing for the contraction of the necessity and relevance of the institution.
From my perspective, this dog and this man are the literal embodiment of Christ speaking to us directly. If he (Christ) is not this, then what is he?