July 7, 2011

Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Review and Experience).

Raised a “literal Lutheran,” I’ve had quite a share of reservations while integrating my ingrained impressions of the Bible and teachings of Jesus into the inner-integrated spiritual studies that I’ve found myself involved in both professionally, and excitingly personally.

I’ve read, studied, and listened to talk, but sifting through the rhetoric has become increasingly critical as I continue to assimilate Yoga, meditation, and my Christian faith. I sought Biblical reference and cross reference, not just sweet sounding spiritual talk. I wanted context inside of framework, not just random-Jesus-quote-that-“seems to make sense.” I desired substantiation on translation and prophecy citation.

I wanted the Bible, literally explained spiritually.

One of my teachers, Sr. Margaret Galiardi recommended I start with Richard Rohr’s Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality. I found much of what I was seeking…and more.

Rohr, a Franciscan priest, begins his book with a Biblical mandate: “We teach not the way that philosophy is taught, but in the way that the Spirit teaches. We desire to teach spiritual things spiritually.”— 1 Corinthians 2:13

Rather than travel “book by book” through the Bible, Rohr lays out the evolving themes throughout the whole Bible, Old and New Testaments. He often describes Biblical character and narrative development as a drawing of parallels to development of inner consciousness. The climax of the progression is revealed in Christ realized. Urging the reader to “stay with the unfolding texts,” Rohr takes a journey through the Bible by “connecting the dots,” using scripture as reference and encouraging reader to cross reference various Biblical translations. 

One of the major revelations that I took from this book involved just that: translation. Reading Rohr, I wasn’t prompted or pressed to interpret the Bible literally. How could that even be possible, with the hundreds of translations of the Bible on the “market” today? How could that even be possible with the thousands of experiences that mark each and every person’s personal context regarding words? The Bible is God-breathed, not God-written. The words were written by men and are now interpreted, translated, converted, rendered, and “understood” by men. I believe, as Rohr suggests, the themes behind the words are what is “written” by God.

In order to draw an understanding of his offerings, Rohr makes a lot of distinctions between the spiritual views of the Bible and the more fundamentalist views we often hold or hear about today, and he does it in a way that draws on history and other reference factors for explanation. Rohr offers much historical reference to where “religion” has strayed from spiritual suggestion and metaphorical lessons to human mind analysis and ego-law “understanding.” 

He also makes distinctions among the various developments of spiritual understandings. Rohr does this not in a judgmental way, but with consideration for the purpose of identifying perceptions in order to access a different perspective.

Another theme Rohr illustrates often is that of the moral transaction vs. human transformation. Rohr suggests that the human ego becomes so, well, egotistical (read: the “small self-realization” of Adam and Eve), that we decided we must earn our way with God via earthly standards, which leads to fighting and flailing and failing, because we cannot earn what is already given freely. “We have made the Bible into a bunch of ideas—about which we can be right or wrong—rather than an invitation to a new set of eyes,” explains Rohr.  

In order to receive the grace of God, we must open up to it by seeing through to the themes rather than looking at the literal words of the Bible, because again, words are colored by experience and ingrained context, which serve to keep the soul in an ego-imposed box.

Rohr proposes that Christian spiritual seekers come to see that the soul matures through the Biblical and Jesus prescribed pattern of “incarnation, an embodied life of ordinariness and hiddenness, initiation, trial, faith, death, surrender, resurrection, and return to God.”

I highly recommend this book to anyone with the questions that I have held and outlined above. I would also suggest this for a greater understanding of the continuities of both Testaments together, rather than a “that was then, this is now” approach.

I believe that God breathed Spirit into each of us and into His Word (note: Word, not words), and it is up to each Christian to take a deep breath and look beyond the “words” and into that very breath…

Rohr’s book is an invitation to just that.

Best of Times Bookstore (my local shop)
St. Anthony Messenger Press (Publisher)

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