“I am no longer going to be in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I am coming to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, so that they may be one just as We are."
May 20, 2023, Words By: Joel Aguilar, Image By: unknown
When I was in seminary, I stopped going to the traditional evangelical church in Guatemala where my dad was a pastor, and I started attending a Neo-Pentecostal Hillsong-like megachurch. I moved from a stream of Christian spirituality that focused solely on the reading and interpretation of the Bible as a rule book, to a more Spirit-led and emotionally oriented spirituality.
When my seminary friends and classmates heard about my experience, they became critical. Some even rejected me. During the first year that I attended this church, I received about half a dozen intervention-like meetings from people who wanted to bring me back to the “healthy and true” doctrine.
I felt ostracized, rejected, and diminished. I was treated as if I was ignorant, blind, or plain dumb. As a result, I embarked on a crusade to prove them all wrong. I became divisive, intellectually aggressive, and arrogant. I studied hard, not just to prove them wrong, but to make them feel stupid. I was immersed in a destructive cycle of rivalry and hostility that created division.
During my time in the megachurch, I experienced many things I can’t explain. Some of them felt like the Holy Spirit. Others felt like a creation of my imagination. I have a hard time telling them apart. I also went deep into the magical thinking of the “health and wealth” prosperity gospel. I was all in. I even donated money in the belief that God would bless me financially if I gave enough to the church.
After eight years at the megachurch, I moved to a more balanced space in my spiritual and theological journey. Slowly, I drifted away from the forms of evangelicalism I knew in my youth. However, the further away I moved, the more ashamed I felt for the ways I used to believe and the things I used to do. I began to hide that part of my story.
In this week’s passage, Jesus prays: “I am no longer going to be in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I am coming to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, so that they may be one just as We are one” (Jn 17:11).
As I read this verse, I see two ways in which Jesus is inviting us to be one. The first one is to be one with each other. Jesus did not come so we could debate what it means to be one. Jesus came to reconcile everything and everybody so we all can be one human family. In other words, we don’t need to believe in order to belong. We are one because Jesus is the incarnated God. We just need to learn to recognize our oneness so we can live into it.
If I’m being honest, the second invitation actually feels more difficult to me. In fact, my body feels uncomfortable just thinking about it. Jesus is inviting us to be one within ourselves — to be integrated beings. That means that we are invited to incorporate the fragments of our stories, especially the ones that we are most ashamed of. In my case, as an illustration, God is inviting me to come to terms with the fact that I once embraced the teachings of the prosperity gospel.
What’s interesting, and frequently overlooked, is the profound interconnection between the second invitation and the first. Shame has a distinct ability to turn us inward, manifesting in unhealthy ways that often result in us turning outward in unhealthy ways. When we experience personal dis-integration, it often leads to communal dis-integration.
Our scripture for today shows a different path. In the presence of a loving God, we learn to see that we are all called to be part of the One who takes us as we are — who doesn’t shudder at our shame, big or small. For my part, I haven’t shared about my prosperity gospel days in a long time. Perhaps, witnessing the compassionate community modeled by the Father and Son in our scriptures today has deepened my trust in the One who loves us all.
What is a denomination or stream of Christian spirituality that you feel at odds with? How is the Spirit inviting you to integrate some of their practices into your life? What is a fragment of your story that you are ashamed of? How is the Spirit inviting you to integrate it back into your life?