READING THE BIBLE MYSTICALLY: An Introductory Workshop
Dr. Laurence H. Kant, Historian of Religion (Ph.D., Yale University, 1993)
August 30, 2015, Sunday, 2:00-5:00 p.m.: Encore class
Location: 131 Jesselin Drive, Lexington, KY 40503
Everyone comes to the Bible with different perspectives. Lay people appeal to tradition, practice, belief, social justice, evangelism, literal interpretation, and opposition or apathy to religion. Scholars interpret the Bible from their own angles: history, literature, sources, language, theology, and archaeology. No one perspective, however, can encompass and explain biblical texts.
For me, a mystical approach to biblical interpretation entails the discovery and creation of profound meaning in the text. Integrative in nature, it uses a variety of perspectives to understand the contexts and multiple (often ambiguous and conflicting) meanings of passages. We start from the ground up, beginning with small details (word-by-word and even letter-by-letter) as we move through sentences and stories toward apparently hidden and esoteric readings. Usually what we regard as secret or mystical lies in open sight, but seeing it demands close attention and far-reaching awareness of all sorts.
We will initially have a brief review of some basic Hebrew Bible background, including chronology, history, the source hypothesis, and language issues. We will follow this up with a short discussion of how Jews, Christians, and Muslims, as well as non-believers, non-affiliated, and spiritual-but-not-religious, view the Bible. Then we will spend the bulk of our time engaging the text, particularly Genesis 1, and discuss its use in constructing meaning for our lives. No previous background is necessary. Mutual respect is assumed in an atmosphere open to all spiritual, religious, and non-religious points of view.
The workshop is part of a larger series that continues in the Fall. Upcoming dates are as follows (at the same time from 2-5 p.m. on Sunday afternoons, location to be announced): September 20, October 11, November 8, and December 13.
The cost of the workshop is $35.00 per person (cash, or check made out to “Mystic Scholar, LLC”), Reserve a place by emailing Dr. Kant at email@example.com (with “Mystic Scholar” in the subject line). Payment may be made at the door before the workshop. Please read Genesis 1 and 2 beforehand. For further information on the presenter, see the attached CV and bio, as well as the brochure with photos, below.
Dr. Laurence H. Kant
Anything can be idolatrous. Therefore, question everything.
We are intersecting fields of eternal becoming.
There is something I want to say about many in the environmental movement. I hear a lot of people predicting “The End” and the collapse of everything. In fact, I understand their point of view, and I have some sympathy with it. We as a species certainly can destroy the earth through pollution, nuclear catastrophe, destruction of eco-systems, and other means.
However, I don’t really see the value in this. What good does such pessimism and hopelessness do? If everything is going to be destroyed anyway in the near future, then please shut up and live your life. We don’t need to hear prophecies of doom any more than we need to have it rammed in to us that we are going to die some day. Yes, I know, but I don’t need someone screaming at me about it every minute of the day.
I guess I place these environmental prophets of doom in the same category as I place fundamentalist Christian evangelists who speak of the coming apocalypse. Doom-saying, apocalyptic Christians can go to Jerusalem or Texas or Salt Lake or wherever else they have a vision to await the return of Christ; ultra-Orthodox Lubavitch Hasidim can await the return of Rabbi Schneerson to Brooklyn and Jerusalem; Shiite Muslims (like the current President of Iran and many others) can go to Damascus to await the descent of the twelfth imam (the Mahdi); and perhaps secular environmental prophets should go to Greenland or the Antarctic or Alaska or Polynesia to await the final collapse of civilization and planetary life.
Yes, we have problems, and they’re serious, life-threatening, even cataclysmic. We’ve been around for a little while now, and empires comes and go, as do societies and peoples. But the earth has continued, so has life, in spite of what human beings have done to the planet (and they’ve done a lot even before now). And the earth is certainly not the only planet with life, nor is this the only universe, and there are other life forms we on the planet have yet to encounter (or perhaps don’t recall).
While there is reason for an apocalyptic voice now and throughout history, sometimes it enters into pointlessness, even silliness. Often it reflects a kind of species narcissism, as if our problems, however difficult, portend the end of all that is. There’s much we don’t know or remember about our our own lives, the history of our species, and the origins and characteristics of our solar system, galaxy, and universe. Yet we presume to predict future outcomes and events based on our own limited knowledge and life-experience.
Just because our efforts do not seem to have much affect, if any, does not mean that nothing is changing. When we assume we are failing or having no impact (and I’ve done that too), we are in fact acting selfishly, assuming the world depends on us, that we have some inherent right to see change, and that our individual lifetimes have a greater value than thousands upon thousands of generations that came before us and that will come after us–not to mention the millions upon millions of generations of every cell and life-form. Maybe we need to lighten up and enjoy the music. I know I need to do that.
This article puts MLK into perspective, reminding us that he was not a bourgeoise moderate politician, but a radical social and spiritual acitivist with an economic vision for justice and equality. Whatever one thinks of his economic solutions, there is no question that levels of inequality in our society threaten our way of life, our democracy, and our freedom. MLK was well ahead of his time on that. We need to remember who MLK was and his vision of a just society and not depict him as the main character in a romance novel in order to domesticate him for popular consumption. .
Bill McKibben complains that Obama is too patient on global climate change in the Guardian article below. However, we can’t expect Obama or any president or congress to do anything on their own. Politics never works that way and never has. Churchill responded to Hitler only because he really had no other choice other than to surrender to a brutal, maniacal dictator.
Environmentalists complain incessantly about how little Obama has done for the planet. However, it’s not his job. It’s our job and the job of activists. If not enough people accept climate change or the urgency of solving the problem, it’s up to environmental leaders to change the discourse and persuade people otherwise. If they aren’t up to the task, it’s their fault, not that of Obama or any politician.
Politicians like Obama will respond, and respond with urgency, if enough people demand it. Right now there is insufficient political space for Obama to do anything on climate change. Environmentalists must stop whining about the failure of political leaders and create the space themselves. This kind of action is what the planet is calling for us to engage in.
The job of a president (or any political leader in a democratic society) is to push people when they are not quite ready to do something, but need the extra lift to get them going. A president cannot create something out of nothing (only God–maybe–can do that in Genesis 1). It’s the job of the rest of us to move us to a place where the president can act without getting totally eviscerated.
From a spiritual point of view, humanity needs to act locally as members of broad-based coalitions and groups. We have depended far too long on individual leaders to do this work for us. By acting on our own as part of collective movements that transcend nation states, ethnic groups, socio-economic classes, and religions, we move humanity toward authentic empowerment by serving as co-creators.
In a move to assert their rights in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and to bring attention to gender inequalities, Mormon women put out a call to wear pants to church. We may think of women as having achieved parity in many sectors of American society, but in religious institutions women often find themselves caught in the backdraft of ancient traditions and historical precedents.
In my own Jewish tradition, for example, women have found themselves arrested by Israeli police simply for wearing a prayer shawl (talit) while praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. In fact, there is nothing in Jewish law that would prevent women from doing this: it’s simply a custom that men in authority don’t like.
This is another example of religious institutions trailing behind other sectors of society in promoting economic and social progress. In the modern world, organized religion has in fact mostly stood as an impediment to the expansion of freedom and to cultural advancement. In contrast, spiritual thought and practice is much more attuned to the unfolding consciousness that is very gradually bringing humanity to a higher state of awareness and living.
Thanks to these Mormon women for helping humanity move forward just a little bit further.
When I meditate, I look at myself. I watch myself breathe, sit, listen. So who is the one breathing, sitting, listening? Who is the one watching all this? I realize that I am neither the doer nor the watcher. I am the one who contains both the watcher and the doer. I exist somewhere else in another place, in another home, of which all this is but a small part.
We are each so small and so large, so near and so far. No/thing contains us, and we contain all that is. We are right next to ourselves, yet an eternity away. We are bodies and DNA scrolls crossing space and time, conveying new stories as we compose poetry in energy, condensing and scattering, then reformulating ourselves in new patterns and structures, like a living kaleidoscope.
I just saw Rachel Maddow’s program this evening. Did you know the extent to which Democrats have been winning unexpectedly in heavenly Republican districts? Obviously there’s the stunning victory in New York 26, but there’s much more going on. Democrats are winning everywhere: for Jacksonville mayor, for Tampa mayor, in New Hampshire for a state senate seat, and in Wisconsin for a state assembly seat. In a 50-50 Maine state senate district, the Democrat won by over 40 percentage points. In Ohio a Republican state senator who voted for the union busting bill resigned after relentless criticism for that vote. In Alabama, a state senator flipped from Republican to Democrat. The Republican governor of Florida (Rick Scott) has a 29% approval rating, while Republican John Kasich in Ohio is cratering in the polls and Republican Scott Walker is doing poorly in Wisconsin. In Ohio a poll showed an 18% lead for the opponents of the union busting bill.
What’s going on? I don’t think I’ve ever seen this quick of a political turn-around? This is more dramatic than what happened after the government shut-down in 1994-95. Now you never know what will happen down the road, but what were the Republicans thinking? Their strategy makes no political sense. It’s as if the end of the world were coming, and the Republicans tried to grab as much stuff as they possibly could before all hell broke loose. Busting unions, destroying Medicare, eviscerating social programs, offering tax-give-aways to the super-rich and corporations, gutting the environment, criminalizing abortion, and much more does not seem to be working out so well for them politically.
Honestly, I can’t make sense of what they’re thinking politically. It’s totally illogical and just plain bizarre. They could have caused a lot of damage and still maintained some semblance of political viability, but they chose instead to take a wrecking ball. The only thing that I can postulate is that Republicans were not thinking politically, but were instead doing the bidding of a few very powerful super-rich people such as the Koch Brothers. In other words,, Republicans had marching orders and happily walked the plank. Somehow, I guess, they think that these guys will rescue them or do something. I’m not sure, but that’s all I came come up with.
They are handing the 2012 general election on a silver platter to the Democrats. Why????? Do you have any ideas out there? It makes no sense. I’m perplexed.
Now, that said, I am concerned for our country. Yes, I want far-right-wing crazies, nut-jobs, and loony-tunes to lose, but our country needs at least two viable competing parties. Without that either party will probably mess things up even more. I can’t imagine that Democrats will know what to do with the massive majorities they might win in next election if things go as they seem to be going. We need two real parties with serious ideas that must compete with the serious ideas of the other party. Right now the Republicans are nuts, like invading locusts destroying everything in their paths, while Democrats are gleefully watching the self-destruction, but they don’t have any real ideas. Now Obama, I believe, has a vision, but the Democrats as a whole are pretty much empty. So where does that leave us as a country?
What I wish for are two parties: one which is expansive, trying to move the nation forward by advocating expenditures that will improve our quality of life and develop a new strategy to keep our economic global prominence; and another party that stands for fiscal responsibility that creatively figures our ways to save money, keep taxes reasonable, and act as good managers and stewards of our resources.
What’s happened? Where are these parties? I consider myself a progressive independent, a strong supporter of Obama, who has no alternative but to vote Democrat in light of the madness that currently passes for Republican policy. But that’s not what I want. I want a Democrat party that stands for something meaningful and hopeful and a Republican party that recognizes itself as a solid citizen watching over expenditures carefully and supporting change while also understanding the value of tradition. Instead, the Democrats just kind of float along living in FDR’s shadow, while the Republicans have gone off the deep end. Where is the imagination and creativity? Where is honor and responsibility. It exists with a few individuals, but it’s absent from political groups as wholes.
This is a wild time. Maybe we have to go through it as a country, but we are sure facing tremendous uncertainty and volatility unlike anything I can remember and really know about historically, at least since the Civil War. This is, I think, part of the great shift happening at a global level. We are entering a new period of history and consciousness, watching the collapse of old systems (including political ones) while new ones emerge. Perhaps we should not get caught up in the day-to-day, political and social earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, but look through and beyond that to the world that is coming–for us and the globe. Perhaps nation-states will disintegrate as new forms of governance emerge that act at both global and local levels. A lot of people focus on up-and-coming countries like China, but perhaps we need to look toward the new structures that are emerging that have nothing to do with nations or political parties, but with movements–such as environmental activism or freedom movements in the Middle East or micro-financing or the post-religious “spiritual but nor religious” phenomenon or whatever –that are creating systems that we can’t even really seen just yet.
I have for a long time sensed a global shift and world transformation bubbling up from the depths, but experiencing it is completely different from envisioning it.
Any thoughts out there in the blogosphere and web world?
Freedom from bondage in Egypt still has not finished. We are still wandering in the wilderness to the extent that we are in bondage to the expectations of others. Such a plight might indicate “peer pressure,” but even more it refers to the manipulations of powerful cultural forces and vast corporate empires.
Yet, in the din and confusion of screeching bullies and con-men, it is within our power to listen to our own authentic voices and act accordingly. A difficult journey faces us, but the land of milk and honey beckons.
I could not agree more with Bernie Sanders. It’s also practical if we want our country to be able to compete effectively in the world. Right now our companies are saddled with huge costs, and patients face obscenely high payments and inadequate, uncertain coverage.
I think there is a deeper issue here as well. Giving everyone access to basic health care means they many more individuals will have the opportunity to embark on building start-up companies and on accepting higher risk jobs without fear of losing their health insurance coverage. I see universal coverage as an issue of freedom. When you don’t have to stay in a job in order to have your health problems covered, then you are free to take on careers and jobs that are more meaningful and rewarding. Universal health care adds to our liberty, because it gives us more choices and more mobility.
I wonder sometimes whether opposition to universal coverage stems from a fear of allowing people too much freedom. Universal coverage would take leverage from those in power (in corporations and in government) and put it into the hands of working people and our creative class. Denying individuals this opportunity concentrates power in the hands f those who already have it.
Thus, there are ethical and politco-spiritual dimensions here: ethical in that a civilized society needs to insure basic health care for its citizens; and politico-spiritual in that universal health coverage increases the level of human freedom, putting more decision-making power into the hands of more people. Universal health care coverage is a global, transformative movement of the human species toward greater freedom and independence.
Who is Esau? He whom Jacob makes whole. Who is Jacob? He whom Esau makes whole. Separately they are fragments, shards. Together they comprise a complete vessel holding the light of the Source in one integrated consciousness.
Living on right angles and along straight lines gives us the illusion that we are moving from Point A to Point B, from Moment X to Moment Y. In reality, space and time are curved, and we live along a continually shifting, four-dimensional time-circle or time-helix. Points A and B and Moments X and Y might intersect or overlap. Or Point B and Moment Y might precede Point A and Moment X. Or Points A and B might be the very same place, and Moments X and Y might happen at exactly the same time. Yet, even so, the journey makes all the difference in the world, making each place and each time a new experience–indeed a new place and a new time.
Where are you? Nowhere, yet everywhere.
When are you here? Never, yet always.
For at least one other person, each of us is a gateway to the Source (God).
What is truth? What makes us first anxious and defensive and then relieves our burden.
Wherever earth and heaven meet, that’s the horizon.
I have been to Delphi three times, twice with other graduate students, faculty, and archaeologists, and again later with Dianne, my wife, who was then a graduate student herself. In 1986, Dianne and I visited Delphi so that we could share travel in Greece together. It was that third time that Delphi became a magical place for me, full of wonder and deep feeling. We spent three days there, enjoying great food and scenery, with Mount Parnassus majestic in the background. Yet it was during our visit to the archaeological site, with our Blue Guide (and other guide books), methodically going over as many stones in as much detail as we possibly could, when we encountered the sacred character of this site. Anybody who watched us would think we were somewhat compulsive, trying to figure out the location of as many details in the Blue Guide as we possibly could. We spent hours and hours identifying the monuments, thinking about their organization and layout, and reflecting on the religious nature of the place (including the Sybil who apparently ingested hallucinogenic gases to open her up to cosmic forces). Somehow, as we read painstakingly through this rather dry book, the Dephic energy arose almost out of the ground itself suffusing us. We did not go there looking for something, seeking some kind of mystic message, Rather, it was by studying and observing, and relating to each other that (even when we did not fully understand things) we unexpectedly felt what it was to be in a holy place.
We have many paths to choose that lead us to different places, but each one is part of a larger map laid out for us.
Love stems from the awareness that we are not alone.
Keep your eyes on the horizon. That’s where present and future merge.
Does the Source want us to reach the promised land? No. The Source wants us to be on our way there, to walk toward it. There is no promised land: only a dirt path with spectacular scenery, our two legs, and good travel companions. The path is rocky and slow-going, but we learn much along the way. There are lots of alternate routes, and each one takes us to new vistas and landscapes. When we finally do arrive at the place for which we yearn, we find that it’s just another dirt path taking us somewhere else.
Shabbat closes the weekly circle, being completing becoming. Then a new curved line swirls outward, moving forward, waiting to meet its sibling at the beginning and at the end, to commence again in an eternally re-forming helix. This is the 7-day ourobouros, the snake swallowing its tail, shabbat swallowing six days of creation. We go forward, only to begin again, before the Source swallows us, and life then continues in a new form. A day, a week, a month, each a re-forming of days, weeks, and months before them. No different from life, Gilgul: we are born, we live, we die, rest a while in shabbat, to move gain as new life forms, beings in the midst of becomings.
Jacob’s Ladder: Dreams allow us to move from one dimension to another.
Lost we wander in the wilderness trying to find an oasis, not realizing that both the wilderness and the oasis are inside us.
When your burden is too heavy to bear, let others share it.
When things look down, look up.
Truth is the core goal of seekers. Authenticity is its sibling.
We may never know those whom we are here to help, but we are here for them just the same.
Thinking is a scion of feeling, one of the senses, a metaphorical, symbolic realm filled with the vibrant colors of awareness, the smells of memory, the voices of inspiration, the touch of knowledge, and the light of clarity.
Sociopaths, murderers, con-men, sadists, and bystanders before violence are all part of the same cosmic body as heroes, rescuers, protectors, saints, and gentle souls. We are all on the same path, only some of us perhaps further along than others. When we punish evil, which we must–often harshly–we need to remember to have compassion for all human beings, no matter how rotted and degraded they are. They are our family; they are us. That is a form of wholeness: to be able to condemn (sometimes to kill to protect the lives of others or our own) while also acknowledging our common humanity and shared divine spirit.
Where do we find shalom? Inside ourselves, then exhaled as life-giving breath for others.
Genesis is the story of flawed characters just like us.
Where do we find calm? Right beneath the anxiety that shields us from feeling it.
Every atom and quark inside you contains a gateway to the Source.
We can never completely absent ourselves from culture. Paradoxically, we can only transcend culture by sometimes embracing it. Staying true to ourselves involves both withdrawal and immersion.
If all was light, creation could not be. Boundaries require contrast.
Since the Source created the sun, the moon, the planets, and the stars on Day Four, what is the light of Day 1? It is the hidden light, the light seen not by our our outer eyes, but by our inner eyes (Gen 1).
Right now is where we are.
Underneath the noise are the hums, buzzes, and whistles of the earth’s vibrating voice waiting for us to listen and understand.
A NEW DAY
© 2010, Dr. Laurence H. Kant
Essay for the Evolutionary Envisioning Circle of the Annual Great Mother Celebration, September, 2010
A new day emerges, as so many have in millennia past. Once, after we foraged and gathered, we became hunters. Once, after we hunted, we became farmers and shepherds. Once, after we lived in villages and small enclaves, we became city dwellers. Once, after priests and kings ruled, leaders came from the people. Once we did not know what was on the other side of the ocean; now we can not only travel there by boat or jet, but we can be virtually present on other continents when we’re secure at home half a world away. Once we thought that mass violence and genocide were normal; now we don’t. Once we did not even have a word for genocide; now we do.
Each time we move a few steps closer to the land of Eden, where, amidst friendship, dance, love-making, study, and work, we will dine again with God, the Source of All That Is. The sparks of fire that scattered at creation slowly come together to create a flame that lights our world in times of dissolution and chaos. We move from confusion toward knowledge, from fear toward courage, from despair toward hope, from separation toward unity, from pieces toward wholes.
What is wholeness? In Hebrew and Arabic, shalom/salaam connects to a Semitic root that means “whole” and “complete.” Some say “peace,” but that’s only part of the story. In its mystical sense, shalom/salaam really means interconnected oneness. It is that place where difference and oneness coexist, where each being finds its own unique purpose and self-expression as part of one planetary tableau, one eternal poem, one cosmic body, one collective consciousness, one Source.
During the shift, the ego (the I) recedes, and the authentic person emerges from its mother’s womb. The true self, the person You truly are, takes its place in the chariot palace, near the blazing wings of the multi-headed cherubim and the flashing heat of the serpentine seraphim. There it dines with other new-born true selves to seek wisdom in the new Temple of Knowledge and Love. Feminine and masculine energies, whose significance we assumed we understood, reveal unexpected meanings to thinking bodies and heart-filled minds. Days of pleasure and collective communing finally allow a slumbering species to shed its ego hide and put on a healing garment of shared awareness.
What will wholeness mean for evolving human culture? “Conformity” means a mass of individuals forming a collective mega ego (an I). Genuine “community” means a critical mass of individuals building a whole that transcends the individual egos and creates a collective Higher Self.
The events we see on our television sets and computer monitors—boiling, jittery delirium and tumult accompanied by earth’s eruptions, swirling storms, and disappearing ice—signal a shift from one age to the next. There will be many more such shifts in the future. But, for now, at this moment, our twenty-five-hundred-year sojourn at the inn of familiar habits, nations, and institutions has ended. Dying structures make way for new. Another day of travelling begins toward another inn on the road circling back and forward from and toward Eden. Here, in another time long, long ahead, we will be able to eat of both trees—of life and knowledge—but with experience enough to do so as humble partners of the Source, adult co-creators, sharing in the miraculous birthing of new worlds.
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