While serving as the Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, I had the good fortune to meet the Catholic theologian, Ewert Cousins. At the time he was a professor at Fordham University.

At the turn of the century he wrote a book called Christ of the 21st Century. In the introduction he writes, “For the first time since the appearance of human life on our planet, all of the tribes, all of the nations, all of the religions are beginning to share a common history. We can no longer think in terms of Christian history, or even Western history. When Christians raise questions about Christ, they must now ask: How is Christ related to Hindu history, to Buddhist history—to the common global history that religions are beginning to share?”

When I read Cousin’s book I realized I was reading a different kind of theology. In the enterprise of Christian theology the meaning of Christ is usually limited to a conventional Christian framework. To ask how Christ is related to other religious and spiritual traditions is a relatively new development.

Indeed for most Christians, the question of Christ is historically the question of identity. Implicitly, the question has to do with the uniqueness of Jesus as the one and only Christ.

In the synoptic Gospels Jesus gathers his disciples about him and asks them two questions. The first is an academic question, the second, a personal question.

First, the academic question: “Who do others say I am?” The academic question asks, what does the research show? What do the polls say? To this question the disciples answer, “Some say you are the reincarnation of Elijah, others say you are the reincarnation of John the Baptist.” By it’s very nature the academic question asks what other people think.

In the synoptic Gospels Jesus asks the academic question, then he turns to Peter and asks a personal question. “Who do you say I am?”

Whereas the academic question asks what other people think, the personal question begins with personal experience. Based on his personal experience, Peter answers, “You are the Christ.”

Imagine yourself in this scene. If Jesus turned to you and asked who you say he is, what would you say?

I would answer, “You are the Christ. I see Christ in you, but I also see Christ in everyone.”
In my experience, Christ is not limited to a first century Jewish male named Jesus—but Christ—the divine pattern of connection is everywhere.

Even in the New Testament, the idea of Christ is the idea that there was something in Jesus that connects everyone. The Epistle to the Colossians begins with a bold proclamation, “In Christ all things hold together.”

This is why I say that properly understood, Christ is the Christian word for the divine pattern of connection. Christ is not a person but a power. Christ is not the object of faith but the divine power that makes faith possible.

Here is where Ewert Cousins becomes our teacher. Cousins says that we experience Christ whenever we have the experience of a Power that includes and at the same time transcends our personal identity. We experience the Divine pattern of connection, Cousins says, when we see the world as others see it.

Out of personal experience, Cousins writes about what it is like to pass over into the culture, the experience, the consciousness of especially those who are different. For some time Cousins lived among Lakota Indians in South Dakota. He writes of his experience of passing over into the consciousness of the Lakota Indians: “I remember the day, while I was talking to a group of Sioux, that I felt my consciousness, as it were, extend itself out of my body and passed over into their consciousness. From that moment I felt I could see things from their perspective and experience their values from within their world. Also I could look back at my own world and see its values in a clearer light–and its limitations! I became increasingly aware of human values that the Indians preserved and that we had lost: their love of the land, their organic harmony with nature, their sense of time as a flowing process…I perceived their awareness of Wakan tanka, or God, in nature and in their lives.”

For a brief moment, Ewert Cousins looked at the world through Lakota eyes. He saw the world not as a Roman Catholic white man but as the Lakota saw it. The experience changed Ewert Cousins perspective of himself. But more importantly he saw the world with new eyes.

Known by many names, the Christ of the 21st century is the divine pattern of connection, the power to wake us up from our fragmented lives to the wholeness that is already within and among us.

Cousins’ awakening makes intuitive sense. The Christ power is the power to cross over into the consciousness of another. It is the power to understand without criticism, to perceive without passing judgment, to comprehend without analyzing. And the challenge meets us in every encounter, every relationship, in every human being.

In whatever form, Christ always manifests in the same way, Humility, simplicity, trust, kindness, non-violence, a forgiving and open heart. I do believe that the Christ appeared in the first century in Jesus of Nazareth. But I also believe that if Christ is to appear in the 21st century, it will be through each and everyone of us.

So I ask. When has Christ become manifest in and through you?