Title: Tantric Jesus: The Erotic Heart of Early Christianity by James Hughes Reho
Rating: ★★★★ (4/5)
I went into Tantric Jesus not knowing what to expect and fearing the book might be full of poorly reasoned new age platitudes, but I was pleasantly surprised. The book was beautifully written, accessible, and genuinely thought-provoking. As someone who is always looking for the next big title in emergent spirituality or postmodern Christianity, Tantric Jesus was a treat.
Dr. James Hughes Reho is an Episcopalian priest, yoga instructor, and spiritual director who holds a PhD from Princeton University. Tantric Jesus is the obvious fruit of hard work, personal devotion, and painstaking research. The book seeks to uncover the mystical, body-positive roots of early Christianity and bring them into conversation with the ancient tradition of tantric yoga. For those who think tantra is all about libertine sex acts and spooky rituals, don’t be alarmed. Reho presents tantra as a radically matter-positive worldview that celebrates the divine face of the feminine, connects us on a deep level to creation and the Creator through intentional embodied practices, and taps into the truly erotic (here meaning not just sexual, but holy and deeply rooted) desires of our heart.
Reho shares anecdotes about his travels to monasteries, ashrams, temples, and churches, and about his personal tantic practice as well as his devotion to Christ. He blends these anecdotes with theology about Jesus, the physical embodiment of God who participated in the world by breaking societal taboos, re-invigorating the spirituality around him, and urging his disciples towards greater deification or Christ-likeness. Instructions for spiritual practices are included at the end of most chapters, so the reader can experience the deep indwelling of the divine through foot-washing, breath-work, icon-gazing, or sacred sex with a covenanted partner.
It’s obvious that Reho has done his research, both into the philosophy and practices of Tantra and into the writings of the early church fathers and mothers. That’s one of the reasons the book is so compelling; every time I quirked an eyebrow at an idea that seemed a little far-fetched, Reho provided supporting sources. He’s really plumbed the depths of Christian mysticism and early Christian writings to cast new light on Christianity both as a religious identifier and a state of being. His theology is strong, though those with a very high Christology might be put off by his middle one, and those who recoil at the first blush of syncretism will probably not enjoy his integrated east/west Christian framework either.
As with any religious work that draws upon the practices of a variety of worldviews, the temptation to cultural appropriation is there, and though Reho seems to deeply understand and honor his subject matter, I’m not sure it’s advisable to a reader to pick up this book and jump right into yogic practices without reading up more on the culture and religious philosophy of India. However, Reho is a temperate and wise guide who urges moderation and discernment in all things, and I do believe that is what makes such a risky topic fruitful and worth exploring.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of Tantric Jesus in exchange for writing an unbiased, honest review of its