For years now, Thomas Moore has taken us on an exhilarating, multidimensional, and consistently thought-provoking exploration of soul in all its shades and textures. We have covered most of his books, and he is one of our Living Spiritual Teachers. In this ambitious work, Moore sets out to present "a completely new Jesus, a figure I believe any 21st-century person could adopt as a focus for a vibrant and intelligent spiritual life, one that doesn't defend itself against the shadow elements." He has aimed this lively portrait of the Man from Nazareth at seekers of all types and people of different religions. Moore wants to reinterpret and re-imagine the stories and the imagery of the Gospels, which he sees as "an intelligent and profound source of insight into the essential problems of the human race."
The first thing he deals with in this soulful treatment of the mysterious depths of the Gospels is the kingdom of God. It is not a description of the afterlife but an inner dimension that is expressed through healing, wakening, caring for, and calming others. "The kingdom is not a place," Moore continues, "not a thing, not an institution, not a membership. Maybe it is most like an attitude, a way of seeing, a turn of imagination that makes all the difference."
Moore salutes the parables as teachings in which the familiar is turned upside down, where usual values are reversed, and where individuals are challenged to change their worldview and experiment with the alternative reality Jesus embodies. In the first two chapters, Moore uses illustrative material from Buddhism on emptiness, the beginner's mind, and satori to universalize his commentary. He continues this creative process throughout the book.
Moore is right on target when he writes: "The Gospels do not focus on a plan for spiritual self-improvement and a virtuous personality. They are not a set of platitudes about living properly but rather a restructuring of the human imagination about how we can be in relation to each other and to the world. They offer a new way of imagining the human worldwide community."
There are four key elements in the kingdom: basilea, metanoia, therapeia, and agape. Moore covers them all. With a boldness that challenges the traditional image of Jesus, the author starts with a section on Jesus the Epicurean, using it as a chance to ponder the allusive meaning of the wedding at Cana story which embraces marriage, a change of vision, pleasure, and the transformed life. Moore's interpretation will have little resonance with those in the Church whom Jung once characterized as "a misery institute." But for many of us, it will be refreshing and exhilarating.
Jesus as Healer models a path of empathy and caring for others. Moore notes that the sick, as well as the poor and the rejected, are honored guests in his new kingdom. In the process, he gives us a much richer understanding of health as pertaining to body, soul, and spirit. Jesus the Exorcist deals fearlessly with the demonic forces in the world. His self-possession is of great help when confronting possessed people.
In a chapter on a sexual Jesus, Moore covers his relationship with Mary Magdalene and the way his eroticism shines through his openness of heart, his convivial relationship with people, and his love of the good life. The author provides plenty of food for thought in his assessments of the long tradition within Christendom of a sordid view of sex, the Tantric view of sex as a devotional tool, and the role Mary Magdalene can play in the healing of the split between the masculine and the feminine.
Looking at Jesus the Shaman, Moore focuses on the story of Lazarus and the Man from Nazareth's love which was able to bring new life out of death and despair.
Whether dealing with the potent themes of transfiguration and metamorphosis, the reinvention of the ego, or the sensuality of the Gospels, Moore digs deep and finds the meaning. The spiritual and the earthy are welded together in the wisdom of Jesus. And this is both practical and everyday.
"Having good friends, treating people well, operating in every instance from a rule of love rather than judgment this is the soul of the Gospels. Living from the heart, enjoying life, seeking the deep and ordinary pleasures, eating in such a way that everyone is invited to your table these are the soulful rules of conduct demonstrated in the Gospels."
Writing from his perspective as a "Zen Catholic whose spirituality is so baked into life that it is nearly invisible," Moore once again manages to celebrate and demonstrate the power of the imagination. He gives us fresh meanings, new possibilities, and an visionary reframing of what had been threadbare interpretations of Jesus.