- Karl Thunemann
Ganesha and Jesus in the Gloaming
Updated: Sep 1, 2020
I am standing on the edge of a massive parade ground that evokes the space at Fort Worden State Park. It might be Fort Worden, which I have visited dozens of time. The afternoon tumbles rapidly toward evening. I am alone except for two figures standing on the far side of this vast expanse. They are engaged in ritual. I try to orient myself. Is this a dream? A vision? Real life through some strange filter?
Even at this distance, I can see that Ganesha is taking the lead. And what a lead it is! He appears to have learned the form from me. Both of his left arms are clenched with cerebral palsy, and he lurches noticeably when he steps to his left. He has ad-libbed a role for his trunk.
Ah, they are practicing tai chi, the yang style long form. How can I—having practiced this form thousands of times—be so slow to recognize this? The parade ground is large, and the two are far away. One can only be Ganesha, the Hindu lord of obstacles. Even from here I can make out his elephant’s head, trunk held just so, and his multiple arms. Well, in truth he has only four arms here, which makes the venture seem minimalist. And the other can only be Jesus, manifestation of the morphological European Jesus with long flowing hair and—yes—a halo. Imagine that. Jesus really does have a halo!
Even at this distance, I can see that Ganesha is taking the lead. And what a lead it is! He appears to have learned the form from me. Both of his left arms are clenched with cerebral palsy, and he lurches noticeably when he steps to his left. He has ad-libbed a role for his trunk. And he has incorporated all my agonizing glitches—the ones that make me cringe when captured by a mirror—as if they were the refined moves of a master. And I realize: Ganesha, a Hindu god, has learned this Taoist practice from me, allowed me to be his teacher! Me, a penny-pinching apostate Christian! As if I ever really was a Christian.
And Jesus! Somehow I can tell this is the first time he has ever practiced tai chi. Yet he does it as he must do everything—perfectly. Even in the moment, he sifts through all the glitches his fellow godhead learned from his unfortunate teacher. Jesus in not unkind. He cannot help being this way. Different though they are, Jesus and Ganesha might be brothers. Ganesha first emerged in the first century C.E., so go ahead and ponder. Perhaps Jesus, long speculated to have visited India during his adolescence and early adulthood—met a youthful Ganesha. Jesus would have greeted this odd little god with compassion. And now—2000 years later—they can afford to be recognized as pals.
They have so much in common, soothing the pain of human existence and blazing paths toward salvation. Ganesha is teaching Jesus to laugh, a difficult undertaking. Sometimes he teases Jesus, but just a bit. Jesus frees Ganesha of all the internecine rivalries among Hindu deities, so often blown out of proportion. And Ganesha is modest. He never mentions the artworks known as the 32 Forms of Ganesha—consider the childlike, the twice-born (with four heads and four arms) or devouring the remains of a meal. Each comes with its own meditation in Sanskrit. Ah, if only Christian iconographers could be so inventive!
I feel certain that many of Ganesha’s devotees may have offered to teach him tai chi, and that he may have honored each with a sense of being an accomplished master. That is just how Ganesha is. He acts without pandering: This commands my gratitude.
This vision came to me years ago, and its ramifications are still unfolding. Few of my friends have relationships with Ganesha. One woman I know, raised by immigrant Orthodox Jews, dreamed of meeting Jesus in the fabulous Portland library. He came to her as a rabbi. I remember no dreams of Jesus, save the vision related here. But should I have the opportunity of meeting Jesus face to face, may I have the presence of mind to suggest that imperfection has its own rewards.