by Benny Raymond
IN 1976, at the end if my 28th year, I dreamed one time about taking Jesus down from off of the cross. I do not remember now–and I haven't for many years–what in my dayworld life might have caused this emotional dream, but I was horrified to see him set up on end with a jolt after being nailed into place. He was already passed out from the pain and shock, and I found myself on a ladder, bearing his weight up in my arms. He blinked awake and in the middle of that agony smiled at me as I said: 'I don't need this, I can take the blame for my own rotteness!'
And, as we hovered into the air, I hovered into startled wakefulness….
At this point I remained nominally christian, and all I knew of other religions–quite a bit, actually–had come from lots of reading. Some years before (you simply must take my word for this, amusing as you who know me now will find it!), I had supposed that with a history-degree I might one day become a Lutheran minister. This had lots to do with trying to impress a couple of young women I knew in college–and not a Hell of a lot with God. Of course, by the time I was in my upper twenties, sex, drugs and the general moral coma had put paid to all of that–so that I expect that had I become a preacher there would have been merely another boring scandal to do with some choir-director's wife or other.
None of which is to try to claim that I wasn't a romantic, not a bit.
WHEN I was fifteen, in 1964, I went with Uncle Emmett Jacobson out of Eagle Lake, Minnesota, to see Lawrence of Arabia in the old drive-in on US highway 14, east of old Mankato. That did it. Off and on for the next fourteen years I taught myself a little of Arabic. There was something mysterious about it all to me, about foreign languages in general I mean, and I have always wondered in any case what other peoples know that one cannot get at except by going inside their languages.
So it was that I went into the "Peace Corps" a couple of years after my dream of saving Jesus, haggling shamelessly on the strength of my knowledge of written Arabic to get assigned to an Arab country (so as to learn more Arabic)–and so it was that one day, in Fes, in Morocco, I told the story of my dream to our Arabic teacher, the devout and thoughtful, always-joking, Nejmi MuHammad. Bees buzzed in the sunny courtyard, and it was a glad blue and yellow day overhead, with the occasional cloud-wisp in from the far Atlantic.
HE Grinned all over his round Berber face to me:
'You see, si Smit, er, Smeeth–you always have been muslim and just didn't know it with your brain. Indeed, in islam, we say that ALL creatures are obedient to Allah, even in their sins and crime. All is under the law and rule of–REALITY! And your dream shows that your ruH, your spirit shares this knowledge in common with all men–la Houla wa la' quwwaTTa illa bi-lahi!'
'I know, Nejmi, "nothing is possible without Allah", not even wrong and evil. I hear that stuff all over the place around here–but what do you mean I am muslim even though I've only read about the religion?'
'Well, you know that we regard 'Issa as a nebi, a prophet?'
'Oh, Hell, Nejmi, for Godssakes! In this country of yours everybody and their brother is at least some sort of saint. Jesus Chr…I mean, er, but what does that have to do with my dream? Of course I've read that 'Isaa is a muslim prophet. It's just that I've always thought that the crucifixion was, well, just icky! In fact my Great-Aunt Huldy Olsen back in Eagle Lake, Minnesota, SHE says most of the Bible ain't FIT for kids!'
(Here, we had to take a break, while I told MuHammad Nejmi about the American icky and the quintessential Minnesotanism, ish—he was a great student of dialects of American. Fortunately, these vocables are pretty close to sounds already available in Arabic, so Nejmi only had to say them each once or twice, to have them down pat!)
Then, Nejmi MuHammad sailed on about Jesus, in Arabic 'Issa, Son of Mary:
'THE Important point to us is that no creature is a child of Allah any more than any other–so we don't go in for this story of yours about "God" leaving illegitimate babies lying around all over the place. 'Issa was sent as a teacher, and we say he was not killed by any mob–supposing he WAS "God", that's just not terribly dignified in the first place….
'And anyway muslims know that the universe is finally merciful and compassionate–nothing, and no one, CAN be lost or forgotten. This actually is just what you in al-Jahila call science, it's just-PHYSICS. There is something called logic and reason after all. So when the rioters were after him–because they did not dare go after the Romans who were the cause of most of their real troubles–'Issa ran away hotfoot into a darkened room, and then Allah carried him away to safety, up to what you call "heaven."
'And as is only right the mob caught the head rioter and put HIM up–as you say you have read of Hinduism, Emmett, I expect that you know about karma?'
'Why sure,' I answered, lacing my fingers across my knee and leaning back on the wall of the language-madrassa (MuHammad Nejmi was in high gear now!) 'It was nasty enough to string up THAT sonofabitch, but, Hell, he brought it down around his own ears, you got that right, Nejmi!
'But anyway, if Christ, er, I mean 'Issa wasn't killed in the first place, why would I dream about rescuing him two thousand years later?'
'MAYBE Whatever sent you the dream–you know that Allah really does not mean just 'God'–wants you to grow up some more, hmm? You volunteers often say to me that you realize that your America does not have all the answers although you are mostly proud of the good things your people have done. And, anyway, everyone can become a BIGGER human being–if they choose to.
'The dream shows you that already–something in you wants to take responsibility for your own life. And not to put it off on somebody else. And because you are already a part of reality, why shouldn't you deal with reality directly?
'After all, he who works with as much of the truth first hand as he can is one who can help the whole world, si Smit', er, Smeeth….
THIS! Was a lot of theology–and, I felt as though it was a perfect appeal to my vanity too. I was not immune, and I hadn't even read a word of old C G Jung (pbuh) yet. But I knew only too well something in me was forever willing to seize hold of just ANYTHING–in order to show off and talk big to anyone who couldn't make their escape. I shifted in my seat and asked MuHammad Nejmi about the stories I'd read, about the islamic Jesus. He said that here were wonderful tales indeed.
'Do you know about Jesus when he was small and the birds of clay?' I had not heard or read that one, and Nejmi went on:
'WELL, One Saturday afternoon–it was late in the winter, and there had just been rain in Galilee–Jesus was playing with his friends in a fresh puddle, and as all of the children's Mamas had told them not to get dirty because it was the Sabbath, well, Jesus was showing off to the other boys and girls by making some little birds of clay. When he blew on them, they sang and hopped around and scratched and pecked in the dirt.
'One little fellow I'm sorry to say had wanted to have a mud-fight and anyway was a snitch, so he sneaked off to tell the Rabbi. And pretty the soon the Rabbi came hotfoot with a switch because of course one is supposed to do no WORK on the Sabbath, and it says clearly in the law that one isn't supposed to shape things of clay.
'Anyway, the Rabbi came up, calling for little Jesus and looking fierce–so the little birds all took alarm and flew off up into the trees, just singing away like anything. Of course NOW there was no evidence–and so little Haroun was confounded and had to take a spanking, for tattling and lying!'
'Well,' I said, 'Jesus's buddies–even Haroun I bet, at least when the little shit got over it, must have thought that all of these miracles was pretty slick! Lots of christians too love that part of the New Testament the best….'
'YES,' Said MuHammad Nejmi. 'Children love stories!'
[Emmett R Smith all rights reserved 10 March 2006]