I’ve been studying for my final exam in my Introduction to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament class this weekend. One of the topics that I have been reviewing in preparation for the exam is the category of wisdom literature found in the Bible.
All wisdom literature is made up of human reflections on the meaning of life and how it works, but we find two kinds of wisdom literature in the Bible. One is proverbial wisdom, which comprises collections of short, pithy statements (and sometimes short stories) that is general good advice about how to live well. These proverbs often take a concrete example and generalize it to all of life. The problem is that life is rarely that simple, and there are many exceptions to these “rules” for living.
The second kind of wisdom literature is known as philosophical wisdom, and we find this type of wisdom literature in the books of Job and Ecclesiastes. Both of these books are asking and exploring a question about life. Ecclesiastes is asking about profit we get from life. What is the point of life beyond working to get our basic needs met? Job is asking whether there is ever such a thing as disinterested righteousness. Do we ever do good when there is no reward (or no perceived reward) for doing so?
A friend of mine happened to mention Cynthia Bourgeault to me a few weeks ago during a visit over lunch.My friend was about to join a group study of Cynthia’s work at her meetinghouse, and she suggested that this might be an author that I would enjoy also. My schedule didn’t make it feasible for me to join the study group, but I did do a little more research on Cynthia’s work online after our lunch. I checked the local library and randomly picked up one of her books that happened to be available.
The book I chose was The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind — A New Perspective on Christ and His Message. I picked it up last night to scan through it and wound up reading the first half of the book until it got so late that eyes were burning and watering from exhaustion. I was up again very early this morning to finish it. This book completely blew me away. Needless to say, I’ve already ordered my own copy (along with a couple other of her books) and can’t wait to read it through again at a slower pace.
“Cleanliness of the body and mind develops disinterest in contact with others for self-gratification.” ~Yoga Sutra 2.40
I am continually amazed by the synchronicity that brings messages into my life right when I need them. Sometimes these messages appear as I’m struggling with something and thereby help to guide my thinking in a certain direction. Other times, like the last few days, messages appear after I’ve experienced some new breakthrough in my thinking that serve to affirm that I am moving in the right direction.
In this case, I have been surrounded my messages about community the last few days that affirm the ideas I have been expressing the last few days. One that has really stuck with me is the translation of Yoga Sutra 2.40 given above, as found in the reading for Day 63 ofMeditations from the Mat: Daily Reflections on the Path of Yoga (Amazon Affiliate link). This was the reading that greeted my waking eyes this morning.
“You don’t go through a deep personal transformation without some kind of a dark night of the soul.” ~Sam Keen
In my experience, deep personal transformation like this journey through the chrysalis I am on cannot occur without provoking a dark night of the soul experience, but I also think that any dark night of the soul experience will also trigger deep personal transformation. I suspect we never find out without the other.
I think this is because the loneliness and desolation of the dark night of the soul experience is what opens our minds and hearts to the unresolved sorrows and fears and hidden longings that we have tucked into our shadows, and it is this opening to a more complete experience of our full reality from which we’ve tried to hide that makes transformation possible. This is part of what makes deep personal transformation so uncomfortable (for ourselves and for those around us); it is also what makes it so freeing as we stop carrying around the weight of the unexperienced and unresolved traumas from our past.
It’s once again time for Synchronicity Friday where I review the moments of synchronicity that I encountered during the last week. This week’s list is an odd mix of things, but every one of them is meaningful in some way. I’ve also included one intuitive incident that I can’t yet fully explain but that clearly has some synchronicity built into it.
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference. ~Reinhold Niebuhr
This prayer is most widely known from 12-step programs, like Alcoholics Anonymous, but that was not its origin. This is the beginning of a longer prayer written by Reinhold Niebuhr, a theologian, in the first half of the last century. Although I have often found this idea of knowing what I can and cannot change in external circumstance to be very helpful over the years, I find myself pondering this lately when it comes to ways I can and cannot change myself.
I’d like to think that I can change anything about myself that I want to, but the older I get, the more I am beginning to suspect that this is not as true as I wish it to be. Some of this comes back to the ongoing nature vs. nurture debate. What things about us are simply innate parts of who we are that we are born with? And what things about us are things we have learned and can therefore unlearn?