This uncharacteristically long chapter comprises several parts that may at one time have been separate. It reminds me of the book of Proverbs in the Bible, which contains many pearls of wisdom that can be considered as stand alone verses. Because of its length, I’m going to break discussion of this chapter into two posts.
Some key lines from the first part:
Peace is easily sustained
This is an interesting pronouncement in a world where peace has been elusive, from families to nations, across millennia. To me, this speaks to our natural state of alignment and harmony, easy to maintain if we refrain from interfering. The history of conflict at all levels and at all times in this world, has almost always been caused when we have shifted out of alignment because of fear. A Course in Miracles teaches that this fear results from our mistaken belief in separation, from each other and from God. Fear makes us want to control outside circumstances that are beyond our control. Inner conflict is then manifested externally.
What has not yet happened is easy to prepare for
Manage things before trouble arises
These lines remind me of the old adage “A stitch in time saves nine.” It also reminds me of how our practice prepares us for the unexpected. If my balance is improved by practicing tai chi, for example, I am less likely to fall if I miss a step or trip over something. If my inner alignment is rooted through practicing meditation, I’m less likely to be buffeted by an unanticipated challenge.
A long journey begins under the foot
This wisdom is often phrased as “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The character in this line, however, is actually the character for “foot” and the following character means “under.” This gives me a slightly different sense of this proverb. No matter where I’m headed, my present location is always exactly under my feet. No matter how many steps I take, I am always in the same “place,” that is, over my feet.
It’s like breathing. I will breathe my way all through my life’s journey, but the breath that matters is the one I’m taking right now.
No matter how you interpret this line, I think the point is that, to use another saying, “no matter where you go, there you are.” The present moment, standing on this ground, breathing this breath, is where I exist.
As I said, this chapter is more like pearls on a string rather than one big pearl. I hope these lines offer something helpful for your contemplation. I will continue the chapter in the next post.
As I explained in Part 1, this unusually long chapter resembles a string of proverbs. Picking up from the earlier post, here are some key passages from the rest of the chapter.
Action leads to failure
Grasping leads to loss
Thus the sage refrains from action and does not fail
Refrains from grasping and does not lose
Once again we encounter this perplexing concept of non-action. Refraining from action to avoid failure reminds me of the athlete who said that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. We are encouraged to try and try again, to learn from our failures.
But remember that non-action in this context does not mean sitting around doing nothing in resignation or fear. It means not engaging in ego-driven action. It means allowing one’s actions to be guided by inner wisdom and alignment such that action is effortless and unforced.
And as we know from the Buddha’s teaching, grasping is at the root of suffering. Impermanence is the nature of the manifested universe. Our attempts to hold onto something that is changing create a struggle that we will inevitably lose.
Thus the sage desires no desire
Does not value material treasure
Allowing all things to return to their true nature
By not presuming to act
The Chinese characters for true nature are hard to translate. Literally, they mean “self so.” They sort of mean “what is so of itself” or “what is, as it is.” This pair of characters appear throughout the Tao Te Ching and, like non-action, represent a foundational concept in this ancient wisdom teaching.
When we refrain from ego-driven action or interference, and follow our inner guidance, then what is, as it is, naturally unfolds. We no longer create suffering with futile struggles with reality. We are aligned with the universal energy that manifests through us with effortless harmony.
Sounds too good to be true? It isn’t. It is who we are. It isn’t a matter of becoming. It’s a matter of remembering.
The Tao is not about grasping, but allowing, like water. ~Wayne Dyer
SOURCE: No Way Cafe
Category:Father Seán ÓLaoire
—VAN GOGH: BIBLE, 1885
Note: This is the third of three essays. Number one was entitled: The infallibility of the mass media; number two was entitled: The infallibility of science; and this final one is entitled: The infallibility of the Bible.
The infallibility of the Bible
And the fourth shock to my hopes for some bastion of infallibility came as I studied the Bible. It, too, for all its wisdom and insights, has been filtered, edited, redacted and massaged by hundreds of generations of priests, translators and, yes, even emperors.
I have learned lots from newspapers, from theology, from science and from the Bible, but I am duty bound to separate truth from tactic, and fact from fiction; to recognize metaphor and allegory and distinguish those from historical data.
A. Levels of Revelation
Christians, who consider the Bible to be the revealed word of God, actually span a very wide spectrum. At one end, are those who claim that it is inspired by God whose Holy Spirit influenced the words, message and collation of the Bible. Then comes the position that it is also infallible when it comes to matters of faith and practice but not necessarily in scientific or historical matters. Position number three is occupied by those who claim that its inerrancy extends to all matters – no exception. Then comes biblical literalism whose adherents further claim that not only is it inerrant on all topics but that its meaning is clear to the average reader.
It gets even more confusing. Most evangelical Bible scholars claim that only the original texts in the original languages were inspired; while other groups – like the followers of the King-James-only Movement – are convinced that only the KJV is inerrant. In 1546, the Council of Trent decreed St. Jerome’s translation into Latin of the original Hebrew/Aramaic and Greek language versions (called The Vulgate) – done around 380 CE – to be the only authentic and official Bible of the Latin Church.
As you can see it is far from clear what the ideas of “revelation” and “divine inspiration” of the Bible actually mean. There is lots of wiggle room. Many scholars point out that the biblical texts come from a creative dialog between ancient oral traditions and different faith communities over an extended period of time. So, there were political, cultural, theological, economic and even hygienic issues involved.
B. Major Redactions
Modern scholarship employs three main techniques in understanding the time-of-composition of various parts of the Bible. Historical Analysis seeks to establish the “intent” of each writer, so as to be able to translate accurately. Materialist Analysis looks at the social, economic and political environments at the time of composition. And Structural Analysis, especially using the 20th century discipline of Semiotics, tries to identify internal consistencies and inconsistencies within the texts. Semiotics is the science of understanding the grammar, not just of individual sentences (e.g., subject, predicate, object&hellip, but of an entire text. Texts have a natural flow and when edits or redactions are done they leave footprints in the text.
Each organization, from tennis clubs to nations, needs a variety of documents to establish itself. In the case of a culture, it needs “stories” of the ancestors to bind them as “family”; epics to celebrate (and exaggerate) their past heroes and heroines; laws to establish the ground rules, poetry/prayers to focus their spirituality; oracles/prophets to align them with God’s precepts; teachings to steer them on the journey; and “wisdom” writings to reflect on the great existential issues.
The Bible employs all of these kinds of document and, using the three kinds of analysis just mentioned, scholars can identify when and where various parts of the Bible come from. In summary, they’ve discovered four great origins/redactions which are known as J, E, P and D – for reasons which will shortly become obvious.
J (or Y in Hebrew) gets its name from how God is called in this group of writings i.e., Yahweh. It represents the oldest writings beginning around 950 BCE. It is the sacred history of the southern kingdom of Judah and centered on a promised land, a chosen king and a temple-of-the-divine; and it treats of the beginnings (Adam and Eve), the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and the core story of Exodus and Moses. The author of J is a great storyteller and God is presented as very “human” – he is a gardener, potter, surgeon and tailor. He bargains with Abraham, is quite forgiving and always ready to bless.
E gets its name from how God is called in this group of writings i.e., Elohim. It begins to produce its writings around 750 BCE. The E tradition speaks of a very different kind of God than is presented in J. He is accessible mainly through dreams or in spectacular manifestations or theophanies. No images allowed! E is very interested in moral questions and quite focused on sin. Real worship is about obeying God, keeping the covenant and rejecting false gods.
P gets its name from the “Priestly” documents of the Bible which were written during the Babylonian captivity – 587 to 538 BCE – and later; especially under the influence of Ezekiel. P has a very dry style; it loves figures and lists. The vocabulary is very technical, having to do with liturgy/cult/worship. Genealogies appear often because it is written during the Babylonian captivity and it is vital that the exiles retain a sense of history and belonging. The huge emphasis on worship covers pilgrimages, festivals and the importance of priests. The priests replace the role of the king in J and of the prophets in E. Because of its unique style it is the easiest of the four traditions to identify when reading the Torah.
D gets its name from the book of Deuteronomy. It is a collection of laws that was begun in the northern kingdom but, after the Assyrian conquest, in 721 BCE, was taken south and hidden in the Temple. During renovations there in 612 BCE it was rediscovered, completed and offered as a rededication of the people to God. It became the Book of Deuteronomy and also influenced other books of the Bible. The style is very emotional and put into the mouth of Moses – though it was composed over 600 years after the time of Moses.
JE Around 700 BCE, scholars in Jerusalem under the direction of king Hezekiah, began to amalgamate J and E – the sacred histories of the southern kingdom of Judah and the (fallen) northern kingdom of Israel. It was an effort to heal the results of the civil war of 933 BCE. It is known to scholars as JE.
JEPD Over a period of some 500 years, the religious leaders had gone over their history several times in order to find meaning in their experiences as a culture. Now – around 520 BCE, under Ezra the priest-scribe – they began to bring the four main attempts together into a single work. It was completed around 400 BCE and is known as “the Pentateuch” in Greek or “Torah” in Hebrew. It consists of the five first books of the modern Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The books of Genesis, Exodus and Numbers contain input from J, E and P; Leviticus is a pure P document and Deuteronomy is a pure D document.
A simple example will illustrate this weaving of sources. The story of the escape from slavery in Egypt – contained in chapters 13 and 14 of the book of Exodus – has J, E and P interwoven into a single narrative, but it oscillates between them throughout the two chapters drawing upon J eleven times, E eight times and P eight times.
The Bible is a work of love and dedication that spanned many generations of priests, prophets and scribes. Each redaction was an attempt to make sense of their relationship with their God and express it in a way that the people of each era could comprehend.
C. A Synopsis of the Development of Torah
Once David had established himself as king of the twelve tribes and his son Solomon had built the first temple, the scribes, using the orthography borrowed from the Phoenicians, began to record the sacred history of Judea. The king (“son of God” according to the installation rite), the temple, its priests and ritual became the focus of this record. They went on to invent “creation stories”, “how stories” and “why stories” (like all cultures). This began around 950 BCE and is the J (Yahwist) stream.
Very shortly however, on the death of Solomon in 933 BCE, the kingdom split into Israel (with ten tribes) in the north of the country and Judah (with two tribes) in the south. However, none of the kings of the north were descended from David and so were not “sons of God” and there was constant juggling for the throne. In fact, between 933 and 721 BCE, of the 19 kings of Israel, eight were assassinated. Because they did not want their people going to Jerusalem to worship, instead of unity built around the king, temple or priesthood, it was the prophets e.g., Elijah, Amos, Hosea who held the spiritual authority. Beginning around 750 BCE they began to record the sacred history of the north (Israel) which scholars call E. They also began to collect the laws, but in 721 BCE the northern kingdom was overrun by the Assyrians and most of the people deported. A few of the leaders escaped to Judah bringing with them both E and the collection of laws.
In an effort to heal the 212-year rift, both sets of scholars got together to stitch J and E into a single work (which modern Bible scholars call JE). Compromises were made and the editing was far from seamless, with two or more versions of some events included. The collection of laws was deposited in the temple library and forgotten until 612 BCE when major temple renovations re-discovered it. The king at this time, Josiah, was a very pious man and had the scholars complete this book-of-laws and, in a grand ceremony, had it read to the assembled multitudes who renewed their covenant with God. This document is what we now know as Deuteronomy (D). To give it extra traction, it was written as a series of injunctions from Moses; but, in fact, it was compiled 600 years after the time of Moses.
Soon after (597 BCE), however, Judah was overthrown by the Babylonians and the people deported. The priests in exile, under the leadership of Ezekiel, created a new stream of writing to remind the people of their origins and commitment to God. This work was done around 550 BCE and led to the P (priestly) document.
When they returned from exile in 538 BCE and rebuilt the temple, the scribes united all four sources, now known as JEDP. The original name for it is Torah in Hebrew and Pentateuch in Greek. It consists of the first five books of the Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
Around 400 BCE, in a major redaction, under the guidance of Ezra, the writings of the prophets (Nevi’im) and the wisdom literature (Ketuvim) were added to the canon; hence the total work is known as TaNaKh or The Hebrew Bible.
One final comment. Much later, when the final decision was to be made about which books to include or exclude, the Jewish scholars used two criteria. To qualify for admission, a book had to have been written (i) in Hebrew and (ii) before 400 BCE. Both criteria were misapplied. Some books, whose originals were written in Hebrew but were lost and which “now” existed only in translation, were excluded, only for the originals to surface when it was “too late.” And some books which purported (according to internal claims) to have been written before 400 BCE were discovered, through modern scholarship, to actually have been written much later. You win some, you lose some.
After a million years of reflection, there is a dynamic meeting in the consciousness of man between heaven and earth at last endowed with motion, and from it there emerges not simply a world that manages to survive but a world that kindles into fire! ~ Teilhard de Chardin, Activation of Energy, 280
I remember first coming across the name Teilhard de Chardin five years ago in a Foundations of Christian Mysticism course that the Dominican Center hosted in Grand Rapids, MI. His name sounded mystical in and of itself, like an exotic French 50 year old bottle of wine, the subtleties of which my un-refined Bota-Box palate would never differentiate. Like all things French, I immediately assumed I wouldn’t “get it,” and so a couple of his works sat untouched collecting dust in my study for several years. However, during my first year in the Living School at the Center for Action and Contemplation, I experienced Teilhard as the critical key that unlocked all that was theologically tangled and seemingly unresolvable for me between Christianity and its relevance to my peers and future generations.
Midwifed by Cynthia Bourgeault’s masterful introduction and insistence that we were capable of comprehending him, I began a journey to read as much of his works as I could get my hands on. Like any good wine enthusiast, I’ve been swirling and slowly sipping his words…and little by little the subtleties are making themselves known, forming a larger vision of creation and the world that is downright intoxicating.
If you and I were sitting next to each other at a bar for an evening of wine tasting and you asked me to make my best Teilhard pitch, this is what you would most likely hear me say (accompanied, no doubt, by a multitude of wild hand gestures and one or two more colorful words):
Since the time of the enlightenment, humanity has lost its place in the family of things. Our neurotic human souls are crying out to once again find our meaning in the meta-story, to sense ourselves as belonging…not just to one another, but to the whole of the cosmos. We’ve lost our place, and religion has lost its message of hope by becoming bogged down by theology that is not only incompatible with what we know about the cosmos, but in some critical ways psychologically damaging to the collective human soul as well. From the moment we discovered that our earth and humanity were not the center of the universe, to the post-modern age of dissected fractal meaninglessness that has haunted us of late, the intelligent human soul seeking to be faithful to the Christian tradition has had to develop something of a split personality. On the one hand holding the unwavering belief in the devotional heart that insists by experience that the Christian Tradition contains mystical and transformational truth, and on the other hand the unshakable belief in the luminous human spirit of exploration within the sciences which resulted (until now) in a drastically different picture of the universe.
Teilhard presents a message of the world for which humanity desperately hungers: the convergence of matter and spirit through the lens of evolution. As a scientist and theologian, he paints the picture of a universe that is still in the process of becoming, the body of Christ still forming. As such, our theology can at long last rest in the future instead of some paradise lost, freeing up all the energy thus far employed in the prison of our collective shame. Even though Vatican II acknowledged that our understanding of the universe must now be evolutionary, we are still collectively holding on to the religious paradigm that at one time things were perfect and that humanity wrecked it all through “original sin”. Through the lens of evolution, however, all things are still in motion. Creation isn’t “finished”…which means, frankly, humanity didn’t ruin it by eating a piece of fruit.
Right about here, between tasting the Pinot Noir and the highly anticipated—by me, anyway—Grenache, you would stop me and ask the inevitable question:
“Wait a minute, wait a minute….If the universe isn’t the finished “clock” we’ve made it out to be, and if humanity didn’t break the clock… then what’s the meaning of the Incarnation? Isn’t the whole point of Christ that God sent him to fix the damn clock? Isn’t the whole point of Christ that he is the “redeemer”?”
Teilhard’s evolutionary lens elevates the idea of Christic redemption into another dimension. Teilhard declares, “Cosmogenesis…culminates in Christogenesis,” or as present day Teilhardian scholar Ilia Delio interprets it, “Christ the redeemer IS Christ the evolver.” To Teilhard, Christ had to be present and infused into matter from the beginning and exist organically or could not exist at all. Christ is the catalyst of creation that was embodied by the person of Jesus, fulfilling the incarnational and personal message of Love. Jesus as Christ demonstrates the directional potential of the convergence of evolution, which Teilhard calls Christ Omega, and elevates humanity’s awareness that we have a conscious choice in the matter. In his poetic and mystical The Hymn of the Universe, Teilhard declares, “Through your own incarnation, my God, all matter is henceforth incarnate.” Far from being a pantheistic statement, Teilhard outlines a panentheism: A God inextricably interwoven into a matter while still infinitely beyond it, calling creation onward from the future towards its fullest potential and convergence into Christ Omega.
Teilhard’s theology places humanity once again in the critical center of things, not as we once thought in our Ptolemaic universe, but as the “arrow pointing the way”: the directional thrust of evolution itself. In humanity, evolution is now moved into the subtle energies of consciousness, which Teilhard calls the noosphere, and is now a choice. Evolution, in other words, is entirely up to us. In this theological paradigm, the role of sin and human suffering transitions from a punitive one to a collective ascensional force in the process of evolution. For Teilhard, suffering as embodied by the passion of Jesus Christ, represents the energetic exchange that if consciously borne, can further our course in evolution into Omega.
No longer the result of the distant actions of an ancestor’s temptation in the Garden of Eden, this perspective on sin as a frictional byproduct of creation creates a much more subtle relationship to the problem of evil: one of active responsibility. Unlike the individual responsibility that has been thus far characterized in Christianity by a quest for salvation in the afterlife, Teilhard depicts the salvation of the whole of creation as happening now, mediated by the actions of the human collective. We have a conscious choice in the furthering of evolution in our suffering, which Teilhard describes as a cosmically necessary ingredient in creation, and our participation in this choice affects not just our individual lives, but the outcome of the whole evolutionary story.
Teilhard’s theology is one that at long last moves Christianity away from the foundations it has uncomfortably rested on thus far in the metaphysics of duality, with it’s static schism between matter and spirit. Instead, Teilhard places our Christian paradigm on a creative, unfolding and non-dual metaphysics: something much more akin to the ecstatic mandala of the Christian Trinity, the thrust of the Incarnation, and the comprehension of the cosmos as an interconnected whole of quantum physics. Teilhard portrays a deeply hopeful and globally inclusive Christianity that restores humanity into a participatory role as the mediators of the salvation of creation. It is the collective human species that is now forming the body of Christ, with religion once more (or perhaps at last becoming) the animating force for this “zest for living” and belief in humanity, as we continue to consciously evolve into the zenith of creation’s potential in Christ Omega. Like a prophet in the wilderness, Teilhard widens the lens and challenges us to foster, “No longer simply a religion of individuals and of heaven, but a religion of mankind and of the earth—that is what we are looking for at this moment, as the oxygen without which we cannot breathe.”
(At this point in the wine tasting, we’d be starting in on a dessert wine. The bar would have emptied out by now of its more raucous counterparts. The solitary glow of the candle in front of us would draw our gaze as I gave you my closing Teilhard spiel.)
These are some of the reasons why I believe Teilhard’s theology is the theology of the future. On a personal level, he has become for me a beloved teacher, facilitated the discovery of a lifelong vocation, and has inspired me with a zest for the world that is proving contagious. While recently on a trip to Nashville, a musician friend told me, “Whatever you’re smoking, Brie…I want some. I want to see humanity like you do.“ I told him my drug of choice is the mystical vision of Christianity and the World found in the writings of a man named Teilhard de Chardin. In my opinion, Christianity has always held this life-giving, hopeful message in its mystical heart. Like a puzzle containing an image we simply couldn’t decipher, we’ve been trying to put the pieces of Christian theology together without an appreciation of the cosmic whole, resulting in some forced incompatible fits and the scrambling of the image’s graceful shape. Teilhard helps us to see the luminous, all-encompassing vision of what this puzzle can form. Perhaps now we can start moving some of the pieces around so that all of humanity can see it too.
If Teilhard were a 50 yr old fine French wine, and I desperately wanted you to try him, I would use his own words on the label. On the front of the wine bottle I would place an image of the World, not in its typical spherical form, but a World in the shape of a heart on fire…with the following words on the back:
Let there be revealed to us the possibility of believing at the same time and wholly in God and the World, the one through the other; let this belief burst forth, as it is ineluctably in process of doing under the pressure of these seemingly opposed forces, and then, we may be sure of it, a great flame will illumine all things: for a Faith will have been born (or reborn) containing and embracing all others—and, inevitably, it is the strongest Faith which sooner or later must possess the Earth. ~ Teilhard de Chardin, The Future of Man, 268
. Teilhard, Christianity and Evolution, 81.
. Ilia Delio, Christ in Evolution, 76.
. Teilhard, Pierre Teilhard, ed.King, 115.
. Teilhard, Hymn of the Universe, 24
. Teilhard, The Phenomenon of Man, 220-221
. Teilhard, Phenomenon of Man, 226.
. Teilhard, Activation of Energy, 247.
. Teilhard, Activation of Energy, 240.
Levels of Spiritual Development (from Richard Rohr's book "The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See")
One of the more important breakthroughs in understanding why some people seem to "get it" (whatever "it" is) while many do not get it or even oppose or distort it, has now come to be recognized by teachers as diverse jean Piaget, Lawrence Kohlberg, Abraham Maslow, James Fowler, Clare Grave, and Ken Wilber. Their insights remind us of Thomas Aquinas's observation that "Whatever is received, is received according to the mode of the receiver."
In simple terms, whatever you teach or receive will be heard on at least eight to ten different levels, according to the inner, psychological, and spiritual maturity of the listener.
In simple terms, whatever you teach or receive will be heard on at least eight to ten different levels, according to the inner, psychological, and spiritual maturity of the listener.