Tuesday, June 05, 2007

One of the best things about having a teenager in the house is that you keep up with what's going on in popular music, books, and movies. My daughter has me hooked on her radio station, which plays far more interesting stuff than my old classic rock station. But with a few exceptions like Good Charlotte and Pink, we end up buying different CDs. Well, actually, she doesn't buy CDs, she downloads them from iTunes, but that's an aside. She likes the techno-dance-rap stuff that is to me scarily reminiscent of disco music, while I like Robert Randolph and Ben Harper.

I've become a bit obsessed with Ben Harper's new double-disc album, Both Sides of the Gun (you have to wonder if he knew about Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience). He's the guy that did the pop-ish song that was on the radio all the time a few months ago "Always have to steal my kisses from you" --which probably will pay for his children's college educations and many vacations in exotic locations, but most of his music is profoundly thoughtful. I find as I listen to it that lines from the songs pop up in my head in contexts that he probably never anticipated. "Fools will be fools and wise will be wise, but I will look this world straight in the eyes..."

Which brings me to the real topic of this post, which is the relationship that believers have with their sacred scriptures. It's difficult to describe if you've never experienced it. What makes the headlines are things like the Christian Right's insistence on a literal interpretation of the creation story and Muslim suicide bombers who are supposedly acting out the commands of the Koran. But what doesn't make the headlines is the way the wisdom of the sacred words informs all of your actions in a way that makes them both meaningful and thoughtful. The closest I can come to explaining how it feels is the analogy of immersing yourself in someone's lyrics or poetry (Ben Harper, U2, Shakespeare, Keats), which probably everyone has done at some point. The words begin to float around in your ahead, coming to mind at the oddest times-- sometimes adding meaning that you wouldn't otherwise have noticed, sometimes reminding you that others have been where you are.

I think if you weren't raised in a conservative religious environment, any religion, it is difficult to understand how deeply the faithful love their scripture. For Muslims, it's the Koran; for Jews, the Torah; for American Evangelicals, the Protestant Bible. I don't know that much about the eastern religions, but I imagine for Buddhists the sutras of the Buddha and for Hindus, the vedas or Upanishads hold a similar place of veneration.

I still feel a great deal of love for and devotion to the scriptures on which I was raised-- and I use "on" advisedly there, because we were raised on the Bible the way other children were raised on meat & potatoes, or organic foods. I suppose it would be more accurate to say I still feel this love among a blend of other emotions which includes fear (because every time my dad opened the Bible in a disciplinary setting, we knew we were about to feel really, really bad); guilt (of course, because I never have been able to measure up to the teachings of Jesus); and even a bit of embarrassment, because the way we were taught to read the scriptures sometimes led to opinions that (now) I can't believe I ever endorsed.

But there are so many supportive, enriching, marvelous words in the Bible. When I worry about the way I am raising my children, "Perfect love casteth out fear" comes to mind, (I think only those of us who were born up to about 1965 still memorized the King James Version) reminding me that it is more important to love them than to worry about them. When I'm worried that I'll never figure out how to integrate who I am with what I believe, there's James: "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault..." and looking that up to make sure I had the wording right reminded me of another good one: "Consider it all joy my brethren when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be full and complete, lacking in nothing." That was always quite comforting to me. That translation is the NASV, I had to try three different versions to find the one I memorized. My sentimental favorite bible is an NASV (New American Standard Version). I could go on and on but it's probably not all that interesting.

This post has been pieced together because I've been working on it all week. It seems an important thing to say before I go on to the next one I'm working on, which is why I'm not a literalist anymore. So this one is "to be continued......."

Aunt BeaN
Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a Light unto my path (Psalm 119)

My soul wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from him.
He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be shaken. (Ps 62.5-6)

How blessed are they who walk not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in the seat of the scoffers, but their delight is in the Law of the Lord, and on it they meditate, day and night. (Psalm 1)

As the deer pants for water, so my soul pants for Thee.... The Lord will command his lovingkindness in the daytime, and His song will be with me in the night, a prayer to the God of my life. (Psalm 42)

The Lord's lovingkindnesses never cease, His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23) which of course brings up the whole topic of hymns, which also live in your head, because there is a great one based on those verses: Great is Thy faithfulness, Great is Thy Faithfulness, morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed thy hand hath provided, Great is Thy Faithfulness, Lord, unto me.

ok, I'll stop now.  but I could go on and on.

1 comment:

  1. It always amazes me how much your rejection of Christianity sounds like my embrace of it.

    My story is that for the last 12 months I "lost" heaven, a place that didn't seem to fit in the cosmology that is supported by data about the age and size of the universe.

    I had some scary moments, not believing in heaven, because it had informed so much of my life to that point. But I ended up living my life pretty much the same, making the same decisions, praying the same prayers, being grateful for all the little moments of beauty and joy. And I became reconciled to the notion that THIS - the day to day life I life - is pretty much all there is.

    I let go of heaven because of the respect I have for my grown son's understanding of science. Imagine my surprise, then, when I confessed my belief - actually lack of belief - and he quickly assured me that I had misunderstood.

    Physicists acknowledge, he said, that our data about the universe has a physical limit. There is a distance (he gave a number in light years, or something) beyond which we simply don't know what is there. There is definitely room out there, he assured me.

    And so I got heaven back, not the local heaven of my childhood which was about rewards and punishments, but the cosmic heaven in which a real God may very well exist. It is good to remember, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, that we are all idolaters, all trying to put God in a box small enough so we can understand him.

    And the only thing that is different than it was during those 12 months when I lived without heaven is a contentment I feel at being, at least a little bit, in sync with all of creation.