Our Relationship With The Sacred Texts
There is ample evidence that ancient civilizations attempted at every level of their awareness to reach beyond their known boundaries. Those practicing medicine drilled holes in human skulls to release evil spirits. Those who studied the stars built elaborate stone circles to plot the rising of the sun during specific moments in time, a practice that later gave rise to the development of the calendar. Managing the unknown was often accompanied by the rise of theology and the development of its temples, rituals and holy days.
The power of the ancient texts: All sacred texts leave a trail in the sands of history every bit as powerful as the record left by fossils found at various layers of an ancient riverbed. Sacred texts are authoritative revelations of how people thought about God and the created order during their sojourn on earth. Their words have frozen for us how others before us chose to interpret their experiences through the prism of discerning God’s activity. Their insights inspired future generations to read and preserve such records.
The need to assign meaning to the Scripture: Sacred texts, like everything in our external world, are part of our physical reality. As such, they will assume the interpretation each of us assigns to them. Money, for example, will build hospitals, fund research and insure a financially secure retirement for individuals. Money can also be perceived as the root of evil. It can fuel greed, inspire theft and become the god that attracts people to the illusions vast riches promise. Scriptures, therefore, can be perceived as an end in themselves rather than stepping-stones to an even greater story. For many believers, the Scriptures have become elevated to a stature that no early writer ever envisioned, i.e., that their words would become God’s instead of communicating the author’s insights about God. Divine inspiration for the Scriptures resulted from the persuasive voice of the Church as it attempted to control what people believed, and from the basic human need for authority as a basis for belief, e.g., “Ask your doctor if Nexium is right for you.”
The challenge of the Scriptures: Each of us has to decide what the Scriptures mean instead of allowing others to interpret them for us. There are people who have relegated the sacred texts to being a seldom-read book that adorns their coffee table. Has this choice come as a result of laziness, the rejection of the Scriptures’ authority or a rejection of their divine inspiration? Not necessarily. Even though people do not read and study road maps, they know that even very old maps will guide them in the correct direction when they choose to consult them.
Discerning the substance from the form: The evolution of thought takes place constantly. Ideas and beliefs are forever expanding and changing. Today’s truth will appear very primitive when compared with tomorrow’s discoveries. If we are committed to spiritual evolution, we become students who are always seeking new ways to improve our skills. People who have devoted their lives to the discernment of God’s will are specialists. No one needs academic credentials to become one of these. Jesus’ teachings, for example, can save us from making countless mistakes in judgment. He was a master of spiritual evolution even though he was a carpenter. Pharisees were committed and dedicated to the teachings of those who lived before them, e.g., the writings attributed to Moses and the Prophets. While Pharisees lived very righteous lives, many of them missed the quality of guidance found only in their spiritual essence. They preferred to refine the disciplines recorded by others. Praying, tithing and worship, for example, became visible signs of their faithfulness. The lessons Jesus taught concerning forgiveness, empathy and serving others came from the desires of spirit.
Discerning timeless wisdom from the mythologies: Both ancient and modern writers have made enormous contributions to human understanding. The parables of Jesus are filled with timeless wisdom. Whether or not there was a Good Samaritan or a Prodigal Son remains beside the point; Jesus’ message offers guidance. Debating whether creation happened in seven days or was the result of the big bang theory is a useless debate. Basing our faith on the accuracy and authority of such stories as Noah and the Ark or Jesus being born from a virgin, does very little to inspire humanity to live with compassion. The insistence by any group that correct beliefs must be universally held by humanity creates barriers to the formation of community. “Love your neighbor” is a choice each individual must make. Thus far, the sacred texts from all the world’s religions combined have not caused such a world community to appear. Even those who consider themselves among the most faithful still have the ability to perceive others without love.
The task of the faithful: People who communicate about God and the purpose and meaning of life will always inspire students who are ready to grow. People wait for generations for such seers to arrive. Others will continue to pursue what brings fulfillment to them. Not everyone enjoys mountain climbing, creating quilts or reading financial spreadsheets. Rather than condemning others for not sharing what inspires some people, we should accept this as one of the realities of the world. All people do not care about their spiritual evolution. Like early creators, we must sow seeds that will sprout in a day when more people are paying attention to such matters. One of our tasks is to preserve a body of information that will provide guidance once people figure out that they have lost their way. The pleasures and activities found in the material world will never produce inner peace, fulfillment and freedom from fear. Countless people do not understand this. We wanted to be creators and so we are. The question is: Do we create what is timeless, i.e., refining our innate powers associated with peace, self-control, hope, enthusiasm and freedom from the tyranny of fear or, do we continue to invest our energy in the creation of external, visible sand castles that will remain exposed to erasure by the perpetual, ever changing tides of human perception and desire? The testimony found in many ancient texts provides excellent guidance to discern where we are in our growth patterns. They are like primitive etchings that mark the path for those seeking direction. As humanity continues its evolution, some people will leave behind in numerous forms what they have found, e.g., books, poems, music, etc. As with the words written by the Apostle Paul, whether such creations come from God will remain a decision that future generations will have to make. Our task is simply to sow our seeds.