God’s Word – A Conversation About Scripture
In 2019, Karen Armstrong published her book The Lost Art of Scripture: Rescuing the Sacred Texts. I started reading the introduction and I immediately knew this was the going to answer some of my questions regarding the whole of scripture, not just the scriptures we find in the Bible. There were two things that stood out to me immediately. First, Armstrong makes an argument that all the religions of the world use different names of the Divine or Transcendent, and second, in all of these religious traditions, including Christianity, the concept of the Divine was seen as, “ineffable, indescribable, and unknowable—and yet was within them: a constant source of life, energy, and inspiration. Religion—and scripture—were, therefore, art forms that helped them to live in relation to this transcendent reality and somehow embody it.”
I am about to embark on a new spiritual journey with my Spiritual Director (the individual that helps me sort through my own theology, spiritual practices, and how I live those out). What has prompted this change in direction is the concept of embodying the transcendent. What we read in the Bible and in other scriptures points to greater spiritual truths that we all must wrestle with in our own lives. Ultimately, we are called to live in a particular way that speaks to the God-ness in each of us. How we incorporate these concepts into our daily living speaks to how we see and know God on a deeper level.
As a pastor, I want to continually grow in my faith. I want to understand major themes in scripture from every angle, including my own lived experience. But sometimes life gets in the way of doing the work. Spiritual practices help to bring our focus back to those things that are most important in our lives. Living from a place where God is at the center of it all requires me to do things differently. I have to be willing to be still and quiet more frequently. I have to be willing to listen for God's still speaking voice, and to not be content with how things have been, but to continual look for ways to grow, change, and be transformed into a more robust image of God.
Reading scripture is difficult even for the most devoted in the church, but to embody scripture can feel like an impossibility. If, however, we see all scripture as pointing us toward lives of compassion, then the reading of scripture becomes a part of how we see God working in the world to bring about Shalom.
I have been challenged to engage in a weekly practice of “forest bathing.” Yeah, I didn’t really know what that was either. Forest Bathing is a Japanese spiritual practice that involves sitting, walking, or standing in nature—preferably a forest—just to observe the natural world. The idea is to be mindful of all that is happening around you, the feel of the wind, the insects and other wildlife present, how the trees are moving, what kinds of things to do you smell, and so much more. By engaging your senses out in the natural world, you are allowing the very essence of God to permeate your whole being. This is one way to embody the divine.
This week we will look at the Bible from the perspective of the written word that tells us something about the Divine, and how these words are inspired by their very human interactions with the natural world, which told them a lot about God and how God works in the world. When we look at scripture, we are looking at the inner workings of what God created; how we think and feel about life and all the various circumstances we find ourselves in. By reading scripture, we also get a different sense of the world around us. While we may not be able to imagine what life was like during the time the Israelites were wandering in the desert or building the temple in Jerusalem, we can imagine our own beginnings. We can see how life has changed and transformed for us over the last 200+ years in the United States.
In the United Church of Christ, we say that God is still speaking. What is God saying to you in this moment? What kinds of things do we need to be aware of in our world? Are we moving in the right direction? Do we have a sense of the divine or transcendent in our lives? If not, how can we better connect with the source of all life?
These are just a few of the questions we can ask ourselves when talking about what scripture means for us today and what spiritual practices will draw us closer to understanding God and how God works in the world.