In our gathering yesterday of the Contemplative Community, we were faced with a very challenging scripture passage. At first glance, it appeared that the author (Paul of Tarsus), was coming from a place of “us and them”, pitting his Christian audience against those who he referred to as “enemies of the cross of Christ.” If we were to approach this scripture from the perspective of literal interpretation, it would have been easy to accept the same combative posture seemingly promoted by Paul. The good news is that through diligent attention to contemplation, we have an opportunity to see beyond the veil of the author’s limited perspectives, fears or false perceptions to see the Divine truth that lies hidden within. Viewed from this perspective, the participants of yesterday’s gathering were able to see how God was speaking to them in a very intimate and personal way through this scripture passage. More specifically, they were able to be open to experiencing a vision of their highest self, referred to by Paul as the “glorified body.”
This experience brings to mind something that I read years ago in Prayers of the Cosmos by Neil Douglas Klotz. He speaks about the three approaches to biblical interpretation (this could be applied to any sacred writing). The first approach is what her referred to as the literal approach. From this perspective, scripture is taken at face value. In other words, the world was literally created in 7 human days, the Israelites roamed the desert for 40 years and only 144,000 people will be reunited with God in heaven at the end of time.
The second approach to biblical interpretation is the metaphoric approach. We look at scripture as a metaphor for our own lives. Reading the story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert, we explore our own experiences of being tempted. When spending time with the story of the Annunciation, we wonder how we are being called to birth God in the world. And when exploring the story of the Hebrew’s exodus from slavery, we ponder those situations of our own personal bondage and how we are being invited to escape.
The third approach, the mystical approach takes the metaphoric one step further. We not only reflect on how these stories are a metaphor for our own spiritual journeys, but look at how we can actually embody these stories. How can these stories become part of who we are? In this, the stories come alive as we experience them moving in and through us. We become the vessels through which the Divine is brought forth into the world. We allow ourselves to recognize that it is through our own unique giftedness that God’s love desires to be revealed in the world. And we allow ourselves to be messengers of liberation and truth.
In the complative path, we embrace the latter two models of scriptural interpretation. We do not take the words at face value but look beyond the words for the deeper truth hidden within. Through meditation, contemplation and a willingness to set aside our own personal bias, ego attachments and unhealed wounds, we are able to be open to the truth that God would reveal to us at this place in our journey. We also realize the personal nature of this revelation and do not seek to impose this upon others. While our individual revelations may speak to others and inform their own journey, we also recognize that even in this we may be limited by our own personal needs and perspective.
So yesterday, I was especially grateful for the opportunity to see this challenging scripture with a new set of eyes so as to be open to the Divine truth hidden within. And hidden within this challenging reading was a vision that was quite frankly, glorious!