Call Me by Your Name and I’ll Call You by Yours
Paul Smith is a prominent interpreter of a new vision of Christianity in the light of Integral Philosophy. His most recent two books, endorsed by both Richard Rohr and Ken Wilber, unfold a way of following Jesus that is rooted in growing up to an evolving worldview of human culture and biblical interpretation. They also embrace waking up to the new levels of mystical, cosmic, higher consciousness introduced by Jesus and the Apostle Paul. A retired pastor, he helped to found the Integral Christian Network and is the writer of the following article.
Evolving Friendship with Jesus
I have written here previously about Father Keating, Richard Rohr, and Teilhard de Chardin and their relationships with Jesus. Now I write about myself and Jesus. Not that I am in their league, but I know more about myself than them.
As a cradle Southern Baptist 82 years on, Jesus has been my friend for a long time now. Yes, I know that Jesus is “Lord” and numerous other titles piled on him by grateful followers. But Jesus’ words to his close followers, after some time together, have always popped out of the Gospel of John to me over the years.
“I no longer speak of you as subordinates, because a subordinate does not know his superior’s business. Instead I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have learned from Abba-God. It was not you who choose me, it was I who choose you” (John 15:15-16 from The Inclusive Bible which beautifully gets the meaning of the Greek in today’s language).
I figured this was addressed to me, too. So if Jesus chooses me as a friend, I’m not going to argue with that! Yes, Jesus was and is infinitely more evolved than I am. I don’t know if he feels honored to have me as a friend, but I definitely feel honored to have him as mine—but not because he is famous. It’s because he is someone who lived life in such an extraordinary way. Such wisdom, such love, such courage. He gets me close to God better than anybody else. It seemed like God was saying, “Here’s what I have in mind for you, so get to know him.”
Some people have a problem with what can sound like a “buddy Jesus.” It can sound like the 1999 movie Dogma in which George Carlin plays a Catholic cardinal who is trying to put a more positive spin on Christianity. He says, "Christ didn't come to give us the willies; he came to help us out." Did Jesus bring the “gloom news” or the good news? So some offer a friendlier, safer version of Jesus that makes no demands, leaves your ego untouched, and gets you good parking spaces when you pray fervently the third time around the block.
However, to be honest, even this trivialized Jesus can be an introduction to an eventually deeper Jesus. We all start with a more or less distorted Jesus because we begin with the version of Jesus offered to us by others that usually comes from cutting and pasting together a Jesus that fits their predispositions.
I believe Jesus gets more real and authentic the more we get to know him. If Jesus had not explicitly offered us friendship, I might not have dared to claim him as my friend, even though I get those vibes from him.
Let me share a recent series of events in my evolving friendship with Jesus. I had seen the critically acclaimed film Call Me by Your Name, a coming-of-age romantic drama which has won much praise and many awards. The attraction and bond between the two main characters was so strong that it deepened to heart, mind, body, and soul. It was so moving that I teared up several times—and cried once (which is saying something for me as a repressed perfectionist).
In the crucial, climatic scene Oliver whispers to Elio, “Call me by your name and I will call you by mine.” They do so tenderly at first, later shouting it to one another as they run and play in Italy’s beautiful mountains. What is this all about —calling someone by your name and the other person calling you by their name?
It’s about oneness. Jesus quoted Adam exclaiming, when God presented Adam and Eve to one another, “This is why people leave their parents and become bonded to one another and the two become one!” (Gen. 2:24 Inclusive Bible). Jesus prayed for us, using the same language, saying, “I pray that they may all be one, as you, Abba, are in me and I in you; I pray that they may be one in us (John 17:21).
Ah, but that is inner, spiritual bonding you say. Those who traverse the mountains of transcendence and oneness with God know it is, yes, spiritual, but much more! Transcendence is experiencing the blissful oneness of all divine spiritual reality with all human reality with all physical reality! That’s what Jesus the Christ modeled for us.
I watched Oliver and Elio growing close as these “call me by your name” words filled with a deep, heartfelt love. I thought, “I going to try this as a spiritual practice in my friendship with Jesus.”
One day near the end of my prayer/mediation time I said to Jesus, “Would you be willing to try an experiment where I call you by my name and you call me by yours?”
He smiled (I saw him do that on the screen of my imagination, in what I take to be spiritual reality as interpreted by me) and replied, “Sure.” It seemed like that smile was one of those “Sure, I’ll go along with you, but you don’t know what you’re getting into!”
I said to Jesus, “Paul?” He paused a second, and then said “Jesus?”
Whoa! That felt outlandish! I felt ridiculous! I was confused, and my mind was filled with a mental barrage of why it was downright silly. I had just committed theological suicide! Lightening strikes to follow.
I mumbled something like “Sorry, I’m not ready for that,” and signed off.
I rested from my audacious experiment for a few days. Then I thought I would try it again. This time I had thought it through more—oneness is oneness however you express it. If Jesus could say, “If you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me,” then he was actually saying that he was one with the least of these. This includes me because I’m at least an emotional and psychological “leaster” in many ways. If Jesus could talk about being in me and me in him, what did that mean in reality? If it was real, then the request “Call me by your name” might reach into a deeper experience of this reality, a felt-knowing in my heart and gut.
So I said to Jesus, “Paul?”
I heard, “Jesus?” back. This time it only felt part weird, and part, “Maybe it’s true.”
The next night I woke up in the middle of the night and sensed Jesus’ presence in an especially strong way on my right side and arm. I said, “Yes?”
Jesus said (not in actual physical words but clearly in my mind) “I want you to know that you and I are one, not just in your theological head, but in your divine/human feelings and God-created body.”
I said back, “I really like you just where you are right now, by my side. Then we can talk in a somewhat normal way. If you are inside me and I want to talk, I’ll be talking to myself—and that’s really weird.”
Jesus replied, “Hey, remember, ever since my resurrection into a spiritual body, I can be in two places at once. Actually, I can be everywhere at the same time! I can be you on the inside and not you on the outside. Let’s try this again.”
So I did—and he did. I said to Jesus, “Paul?” He responded, “Yes!”—then paused.
Next, Jesus said to me “Jesus?” I replied, Yes!”
This time I melted. I soaked in these words and beyond any words as much as I could for now. It was a new level of oneness with Jesus full of bliss and a sense of wholeness. My mind had let go of trying to understand, my heart was overflowing, and my gut was shouting “Yes!”
Some people 2000 years ago must have felt the same way because one of them wrote, “I live now not with my own life but with the life of Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).
Jesus and I still talk as he conveniently shows up at my side and then I can still call him “Jesus.” However, now when I go inside, he is there too—and I call him “Paul” and he calls me “Jesus.”