Hamill describes the relationship he used to have with Jesus:
Boyfriend was not the term we used, of course, but he was effectively a kind of invisible friend. I talked to him. Not all the time of course. In fact it was mainly when I was stressed. “Help me Jesus, I’m in over my head here” or, alternatively, “Thank you Jesus for this lovely sunny day.”
As he points out, this relationship was somewhat one-sided, even “egotistical”:
I did all the talking. It was all about me. I knew that Jesus was meant to do some of the talking. He didn’t really. I knew there were supposed to be techniques for listening so I tried to do some listening. You were supposed to read the Bible and then your take on what you had just read was taken to be what Jesus was saying. Alternatively when I had questions and asked Jesus about them I was supposed to wait and see what ideas came into my head. And if they persisted and I felt them impressing themselves strongly upon me, then I was warranted in regarding that as Jesus talking. It was a strange relationship!
In contrast, Hamill goes on to describe the relationship which Jesus sought to establish with his disciples (who, as a commenter points out, did not spend their time “sitting around Jesus singing him love songs”!):
The same Jesus who gave himself again to his disciples after they had contributed to the process by which he was killed, this same Jesus was concerned (prior to his death) that he be remembered precisely for and in his death. This is my body broken for you. This is my blood shed for you. Do this to remember me!
The Jesus of Christian faith is not an invisible psychological aid. The experience of resurrection is this: living he confronts us with his death. He wants us to know him as a man who poured himself out for the world and also as a man who was broken by the world. This death is the culmination of the person and it is this that determines whatever kind of “relationship” we might have with him.
Hence the relationship we now need with Jesus is (as Hamill puts it) a “liturgical” one:
I need to be constantly addressed by the drama of God’s encounter with the world as it culminates in the great revelatory victory of the cross of Christ. … Unless I am liturgically confronted by the forgiveness of my divine victim, Jesus, I will never be truly human nor truly participate in God’s life for which I was created.
As he concludes:
My hope is that eucharistic liturgy is the Spirit’s way of casting out romantic narcissism and making disciples.
All this certainly chimes with my own experience over the past few years, which have seen a similar shift from the “talking in my head to Jesus” model (though “talking in my head to Jesus” still has its place) to a more liturgical and sacramental encounter with him:
- above all in the Divine Service, as Christ’s people meet together to encounter him present among us: speaking words of absolution, unfolding the Scriptures, and giving his body and blood to us in the Lord’s Supper;
- in the Office, which provides a daily exposure to “the drama of God’s encounter with the world” as recorded in the Bible’s stories and songs; and
- in practices such as the Jesus Prayer, which – while one level an individualistic “talking in my head” – has a “givenness” to it which it shares with the Office and the Divine Service.
What all this spares us is “the laborious exercise of all manner of psychological and spiritual techniques” to which Ben Myers refers. As Myers puts it:
[T]he only Jesus we want anything to do with is the Jesus narrated in the Gospels – not Jesus the friendly poltergeist (as Robert Jenson once put it), but the crucified and risen one who summons us to discipleship.