Approaching the Bible

It seems appropriate today to write about interpreting the words in the bible since one of my readers responded to yesterday’s blog with an interpretation of a biblical text. I welcome people’s opinions and don’t mean to single this person out but I learned many years ago about the ins and outs of how to read and understand the scriptures.

Years ago I was part of a community that interpreted the words in the bible quite literally. One day a priest, designated by the bishop, came to visit our group. He prayed with us and we did some reading together. Then he gave a teaching in which he held up the bible and said, “This is not a Ouija Board.” He told us that we need to be careful about applying the words too literally, especially if we hope to find guidance in how to live our lives.

Sarah Hurwitz, in her book Here All Along, has the same concern. Writing to a Jewish audience, she says, “…rife with ambiguity, the Torah* lends itself to multiple – often contradictory – interpretations. One traditional Jewish teaching claims that there are ‘seventy faces to the Torah,’ meaning many different ways to understand it. Another declares: ‘Turn it (the Torah) over and turn it over, for everything is in it.’ ”

Her experience was that reading the ancient texts “was like an ancient Rorschach test: What did I see? How did I fill the gaps? What did that say about me? How have Jews understood the Torah over the years? What does it say about us as a people?” (Italics is mine)

Lest you dismiss Hurwitz’ ideas as not applicable to Christians, remember that Jesus was a Jew and the Torah was his scripture. Judaism is our “parent religion” and we aught to pay attention to the wisdom coming from Jewish experience with the Word.

Once I let go of buying into only one, literal, meaning of a biblical text, I discovered a plethora of other meanings. In order to do this, I needed to set aside those voices that insisted they knew the true meaning, even for me, and have the humility to say, “I don’t know.” That is when the scriptures really began to open up for me as the living Word that began to change my life.

*The Torah is the first five books of the Old Testament and the most sacred text for the Jewish people.

Super Glue It

Caucus night was slim pickin’s. There were more township tables empty than ever before. At my table there were three of us. At another table, there were two, the mayor of that town and a former legislator. This was very discouraging to me. For one thing, there were fewer to pick from to go on the the county convention. I signed up along with the other two to fill three positions.

After writing what I did yesterday, I went to the caucus with a different set of eyes and ears. I was not for looking people who support me in my beliefs. I was looking for divisive and unifying language. I found both. I heard words of divisive anger and unifying compassion coming out of the same mouths. I felt discouragement and hope at the same time.

When Jesus woke up to the the Divine within him, I think he also woke up to the fact that the wholeness he’d found was not evident among his own people. He said to a woman seeking healing that he’d come to reach out to his own people, the children of Israel. In the end he healed the woman (who challenged him for being so rigidly attached to his agenda) but the point is, he realized that healing the brokenness among his own people was a first step to healing the brokenness in the world.

I got home last night in time to see the last half of the Democratic debates. What a mess! People yelling at each other or yelling just to be able to finish their own sentence. I heard hurtful accusations. One mistake and you are out, it seems. Only perfect people allowed here. I had trouble sleeping and ended up moving to the couch where I played games on my phone until I finally dozed off. I couldn’t handle the divisiveness.

This morning, the noise and tension in me has subsided.  I can see more clearly. I prayed as the sun rose for unity. I made a decision to look for a spirit of discord and division in those who lead our country. These I will not support and may work against them. I will look for a spirit of respect and oneness to support and may work for them. I will try to be a voice for unity as I go forward in my writing, my political involvement or simply as I go about my life.

Truly, I don’t know what else to do. Our country is so deeply divided. I think right now of my daughter-in-law, Wendy, who showed me how to pull torn flesh together, apply super-glue and hold it in place until the glue dries. The image makes me smile. It gives me hope.

 

Caucus Night, 2020

Caucus Night. It is fun, I love it and have gone for several years now. I like seeing my neighbors. Most of those I meet I never see any other time of year. That is because I have only lived here for 20 years and neighbors out in my township know each other for all of their lives. I am still a newby.

This is a difficult time in our country. People are so deeply divided it is frightening. I don’t hear disagreement. I hear hatred. I don’t hear compromise. I hear fear.

There are members of my family on both sides of the political divide but, thankfully, we have as yet not allowed our differences to divide us. We love one another too much. Rather than condemn one another for our individual allegiances, we shake our heads at the inability of the other to see what we see. I know this goes both ways.

Allow me to go deep for a moment, deeper than our differences, deeper than black and white or even right and wrong. This is about my own spirituality which I have have written about in past blogs. I believe that we each have “that of God” in us. I call this our True Selves, the person God created us to be and nudges us to become more fully in this particular lifetime. This True Self, while unique, is also divine because it is God’s Spirit breathed into the body at creation (see Genesis) but at the creation of ourselves today as well.

This True Self is different than the other earthly self that we take on at birth. This is the Ego, a self that is useful to us in order to survive in this earthly world. I know it as the little self or false self, not really me, yet I can’t really do without it. The problem with the false/ego self is that its message is different from the True Self. This is where politics comes in.

My True Self, because it is one with God, is also one with you, my family members, friends, and neighbors, one with everyone in the world, for everyone has this Spirit of God in them. My ego self is always in self-preservation mode, is divisive. It looks to ways we as humans are different from one another, better than or worse than others. It notices behaviors in others and assumes the worst in them. It has character traits like anger, judgment, irritability, paranoia, and fear. The Spirit within has character traits, too. These are patience, kindness, and selflessness. It is forgiving, does not enjoy evil or harm done to others, happy with the truth, faithful, and hopeful. It does not judge or assume the worst in others. Some of these may sound familiar to those who read the Scriptures.

I cringe as I watch the debates in preparation for the election. I don’t hear oneness. You can argue the necessity of this in order to distinguish the candidates, but I would find it much more hopeful to listen to their plans and decide which one’s I think would be better for the country. This will only get worse when the debates are between the incumbent and his opponent. It will be ugly because we will be witnessing two egos going at each other, not two Spiritual beings.

I suspect when I go to the caucuses tonight I will hear a bit of ego’s judgment, fear, hatred, etc. I will do my best to keep my Spirit in tact. Spirit is needed everywhere. I suspect that when my friends and relatives go to Trump rallies they hear a lot of ego stuff, too. I hope that when they go, they don’t get sucked into believing in the judgment, fear and hatred.

We need to hang onto love. We need to reject the voices of hate no matter where we hear them. Perhaps dropping out of political involvement might make one feel better, but I am not sure what would happen if all places of darkness were bereft of any light at all. Jesus told us to not hide the Light. So I will go wherever I go. As one of my heroes, St. Francis, said, where there is hatred, I will try to sow love.

 

The Selfless Self

Following is a piece I wrote in my journal in 1990. It is a quote from Laurence Freeman’s book The Selfless Self.

“To be truly interior is complete opposite of being introverted. In the awareness of the indwelling presence our consciousness is turned around, converted, so that we no are longer, as we have habitually been doing, looking at ourselves, anticipating or remembering feelings, reactions, desires, ideas or day-dreamings…(the) challenge is to become other-centered. Becoming other-centered requires discipline (and) later becomes habit (and) authentic.

“Discipline (is) needed to turn our attention off ourselves. We tend to equate growth, fulfillment and development with self-analysis and conscious up-building of a positive self-image. But…we must leave ourselves behind to be whole. Then we find ourselves in everything around us, in every person, every situation, each successive moment.”

I recorded the above in my journal in 1990. I think the turn from self- consciousness to other-consciousness is as difficult as reversing of a large cruise ship to head in the opposite direction. We ford ahead in our habit of swirling around inside our head, looking at all that goes on as it impacts us. Freeman is suggesting a total reversal. I don’t know if I have ever met anyone who is so selfless.

I say “is selfless” as though it is a state of being, but I really know better. One is always becoming something, never arriving. I myself have been becoming more selfless each year of my life. I’d say that my family has required it of me. This may be what the Creator had in mind when he created families: to move us from focus on ourselves to focus on others. In doing so, we become his servants in the world.

THOMAS KEATING ON CONTEMPLATION

In 1990, I was reflecting on words by Thomas Keating. I can’t tell in my journal whether I was quoting Keating directly or paraphrasing:

Contemplation is an exercise in being rather than doing. You will be able to accomplish what you have to do with much greater effectiveness and joy. Much of the time we run on cylinders that are out of oil or a bit rusty. Our power is pretty much used up by noon on most days. Contemplative prayer opens you to the power of the Spirit. Your capacity to keep giving all day long will increase. You will be able to adjust to difficult circumstances and even to live with impossible situations.

I was 46 years old when I recorded Keating’s words, the age close to where my children are at now. My life was full of the kinds of concerns they have now, struggling through the lives of teens, financial and career choices to make that effect self and family, and day-to-day inner frustrations and doubts that accompany a particular stage of development called mid-life. My 46 year old self found a great deal of comfort in the words “by noon on most days”.My energy depletion was normal.

It is the other piece of Keating’s message that touches the 75 year old me today. “Your capacity to keep giving all day will increase. You will be able to adjust to difficult circumstances and even live with impossible situations.” On the surface, one would assume Keating saying that prayer is like going to a filling station to get the gas needed to so go further. But I believe he was talking about something else. He says, “You will be open to the power of the Spirit.” Perhaps the idea of running on fumes paints a better picture. As I have grown spiritually, I find myself plodding through situations that used to unglue me. I am less apt to lose my temper when road blocks present themselves and I am more able to manage clear thinking even though it may take more time to put the facts together in my head. This seems to be the case even when I am operating on little sleep or I am suffering from exhaustion from an overloaded schedule. Fear and resentments rarely get hold of me and they certainly don’t control my actions as they once did. I don’t contribute this at all to a gust of physical energy. Rather, it is the power of the Spirit, as Keating says.

The power of spirit is not like body energy. Sometimes I get through a difficult situation maintaining a feeling of exhaustion all the way. But I know even in the midst of it, that I am doing all right. I am holding my own and when it is over, I have no regrets.

I am not always on top of things. But even when I fail, the Spirit lets me ride through the feeling of disappointment in myself gracefully. I am empowered to make amends as needed, to fix what I can and leave the rest without guilt.

This new place is the contemplation Keating is talking about. It is living in the center. Finding center takes time and work. It seems I have been at this work since my mid-years. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

JOHN WESLEY – “LIBERAL” OF THE 18TH CENTURY

Posted today on Facebook is a JohnWesley’s Manifesto. Wesley was an 18th century religious leader, founder of the Methodist movement which grew into the Methodist Church. Take a look:

1. Reduce the gap between rich people and poor people.

2. Help everyone to have a job.

3. Help the poorest, including introducing a minimum wage.

4. Offer the best possible education.

5. Help everyone to feel they can make a difference.

6. Promote tolerance.

7. Promote equal treatment for women.

8. Create a society based on values and not on profit and consumerism.

9. End all forms of slavery.

10. Avoid getting into wars.

11. Share the love of God with others.

12. Care for the environment.

These words today would be considered a “liberal” point of view and rejected by those who consider the conservative view of a higher spiritual value. But Wesley was living in the 18th century under monarchical rule. If “conservative” tends to be back-looking, Wesley is pretty far back. From my perspective the above is not liberal or conservative but universal as a practical way of being a respecter of all as equal in the sight of God. Everyone….everyone…is my brother or sister. All the advantages I have I will work for them to have as well. Being a Christian, I see the above as a practical way of Jesus’ teachings being lived out in the world today.

So why are these ideas so adamantly rejected today by so many, even people of faith? I struggle.

FACT AND TRUTH

Reading David Hawkin’s book, Reality, Spirituality and Modern Man, got me thinking about the Fact and Truth. I always thought they were somewhat the same. But I no longer think that they are. Here is how I see it:

Fact is about an actually occurring event. There was a red car in the parking lot of Coborn’s grocery store at 4 pm yesterday afternoon. Such a fact can’t really be disputed unless one is doubting the honesty or recollection capacity of the person reporting it. But no matter. Either the car was there at that time or it wasn’t. If someone happened to take a picture with their phone, that can be a good way to prove fact as long as there is no tampering going on.

Facts can be about non-physical things as well. They can be about words, for example. If you thanked your Aunt Martha for socks she gave you for Christmas it is a fact. If Aunt Martha says you didn’t, either she has forgotten, she didn’t hear you, or she is lying to get you in trouble. But none of these assertions take away from the fact of your spoken words.

Thoughts can be factual, too, though these can’t really be known by anyone but the person who thought them. Let’s say your Aunt Martha conceded that you said thank you, but insists that you didn’t really mean it. She can’t really know what your intent was because intention is something you think.

Facts can be distorted or lost in a mess of non facts. Exaggeration is an example. To say that fifty people came to your party when there were only 31 is exaggerating the fact. Thirty-one people attending is the fact, the other nineteen is not. We let this slide. People don’t take the time to count or notice the time or day when they tell stories. We don’t call them liars. We say they are telling the truth even when all of their facts aren’t really facts.

Truth is something different. It is like the space around facts. Truth includes all that came before and after a happening. Truth includes the “why” of things or the preconditions that led up to or enabled an event. It even includes the environment, the community in which an event happens. When the Amish send their teens away into the world, they aren’t rejecting them, they are inviting them to take their commitment to the community more seriously. Truth is much bigger than fact.

Sometimes things doesn’t need facts in order to be true. Noone expects the events in folk tales to have actually happened in time and space, but they know truth when they see it. Parables are true in the same way. Jesus liked using them because he was intent in teaching truth.

If one is a seeker of truth, they need to know that fact and truth are not the same. Truth surrounds events, even permeates. I think of Truth as sort of incarnating in fact and story. One has to listen with the heart to know Truth.

One more aspect of truth is that it is eternal, or without bounds. You can think you know the truth about something only to find out later that you were wrong or only had a partial truth. This discovery of something more continues. We never fully know the ultimate truth about anything…that is only for God to know.