We All Wear a Marvellous Disguise


Girl with black feather mask

Copyright © Oleg Gekman/Shutterstock

by Robert V. Thompson

A number of years ago I had an opportunity to do something I had always been curious about – go to a psychic and get a reading.

After a friend sang the praises of a psychic named Tomeiko, I decided to go.

As I entered her house, Tomeiko instructed me to sit on the sofa.  She sat directly across from me and closed her eyes.  Then she said  slowly, “Now, it if is all right with you, Robert, I want to talk about your past lives.

“I see that in one life you were in the mystery religions.  You have a very strong spiritual impulse.” She paused and  continued, “Now I see you in India.  You were a disciplined yogi, working at your spiritual practices day and night.  In yet another life, you appear to me as a monk in a monastery.”

Then she stopped, and got this puzzled look on her face. , Opening her eyes, she said, “Very interesting.  Your past lives have a strong spiritual heritage.  I don’t believe I know what you do for a living.  Tell me, Robert, what you do for a living?”

“ I am a minister,” I answered,.

“Oh, a minister.  What kind of minister?”

“I am a Baptist minister.”

“Oh.” she said. “That’s a marvelous disguise.”

Then, perplexed, she asked, “What kind of a Baptist minister comes to a psychic?”

All I knew to say was, “One who is curious.”

Later, it occurred to me that Tomeiko’s little phrase “a marvelous disguise” is a metaphor that points to a universal human truth. However our differences appear to and among us –however our lives are dressed up on the surface – there is more to each and every one of us than meets the eye. We are more than our religion, more than our gender, more than our ethnicity, more than our sexual orientation.

All of these costumes cloak the fact  that one Truth, one Life, animates every form. In spite of the many wonderful ways in which we are all different, every living being simply wears each difference as  a marvelous disguise. As the Christian mystic Meister Eckhart puts it, “every creature is a living word of God.”

When we see this we realize that while we appear to have differences on the surface, beneath the surface there is this Divine Presence that lives in every living being.

To see every being as a living word of God is to know that whenever we see life in terms of insiders and outsiders, my tribe or your tribe, what we are really seeing is nothing more than a marvelous disguise.

This I believe is why Jesus sat down at the table and ate and drank with anyone and everyone who wanted to share a meal.  He was accused of cavorting with call girls and crooks, the religiously unclean, the downtrodden and dejected. In the gospels the religious elite ask Jesus’ disciples, “Why does he eat with those people?”

It turns out that eating with anybody and everybody was one of Jesus’ primary spiritual practices.  He ate and drank with everyone.  Which is why he is reported to have said, “The realm of God lives in and among each and every one of us.  I therefore sit at the table with one and all.”

Were Jesus here in the flesh and blood today he would say it again: “God lives in us all;  rich and poor; male and female; black, brown, red, yellow, white; LGBT; Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, agnostic and atheist. We are all wearing a marvelous disguise.” Or as the Sikhs put it, “if you can’t see God in all then you can’t see God at all.”

In Hinduism there is the practice of mirror mysticism.  It is observed in the spring of the year.  In devout Hindu households, each family member is led, one at a time, eyes closed, by the mother or grandmother to the family altar.  As the incense burns all around there is an atmosphere of great reverence. The youngest member of the family is the first to be led to the altar where the mother or grandmother has assembled an arrangement of flowers, fruit, and legumes. At the center of this little altar is a mirror.

Let’s say the youngest happens to be a little girl.  Standing before the altar she is told to close her eyes and to repeat her mantra (the repetition of God’s holy name).  She is then led to the mirror and told to open her eyes and see the Lord. Of course, the first thing she sees is the reflection of herself, surrounded by the beauty of the flowers and fruit.

Then each family member takes a turn to sit in front of the altar. With eyes closed, repeating the name of God to themselves, they hear the words: When you open your eyes you will see God.

All the world’s a stage, and we are all in disguise and the disguise is so good that we are even disguised from ourselves.  Our work perhaps, is to open the eyes of our hearts and see beneath the disguise. This is my daily spiritual practice.

A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, Bob Thompson graduated from Berkeley Baptist Divinity School (Graduate Theological Union) and was ordained an American Baptist minister in 1973.  He served American Baptist Churches in Kansas, Ohio, and for 30 years, as Senior Minister of the Lake Street Church in Evanston, Illinois.  He retired in November of 2010. Over the years he has contributed articles to periodicals including The Christian Century, The Chicago Tribune (op-ed), Sound Vision (a Muslim outlet), and others. He is the author of A Voluptuous God: A Christian Heretic Speaks (CopperHouse, 2007), and a contributor to the book for preachers, Feasting On the Word, Westminster John Knox Press.

 

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Categories: Daily Life, Inspiration and Meditation, Interfaith, People, Robert V. Thompson, Spiritual Growth

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