Sunday, November 17, 2013

James 1

Today I read James 1. And I had a few impressions come to me that I can honestly say I have never had before.

I have been able to read the bible with new eyes after a hiatus, and this chapter actually gave me a lot of new insights. It is actually really interesting to see what terms stand out to me now that never did before. I especially like the imagery of the flower of grass "passing away". It actually reminded me of a nature documentary on the great plains. Grassland fires appear to completely devastate the plains. It seems nothing remains. But, whereas the stems and flowers of the grass are all burned up, the roots are protected, and "rise again". The symbolism of roots is a strong one, and a fitting analogy for the cycle of life. I have recently been studying the beliefs, and symbolism of agriculture-based societies as far back as the neolithic period, around 10,000 BC in comparison to hunter-gatherer societies and their regard for life and how it manifested in their rituals. It actually draws out the mindset—literally, the "lifestyle"—of living for a greater cause, as opposed to living for the moment. For instance, hunter gatherers regarded death as a certainty, and lived a 'kill or be killed' lifestyle: living for the moment. Whereas agriculture-based societies focused on LIFE as a certainty, and lived a 'live and let live' lifestyle, celebrating birth as triumph over death. celebrating the seasons and their associations with planting and harvest with the process of birth (new crops) life (harvest, feasting) death (planting) and the repetition of this cycle. Their rituals of internment mirrored those of their crops: Just as they retained some seeds for planting so their crops would grow from year to year, they 'planted' their dead in the earth, and regarding new births as the return of those dearly departed.  Whereas the hunter-gatherers were inclined to violence, to pillaging, to using up all the resources they accrued. They worshiped the animals they hunted, but only inasmuch as their own 'selfish' needs (food, tools, clothing, etc.) were met. Their lifestyle consisted of using every inch of hide, and bone from the animals they preyed upon, or collecting and consuming every edible berry they could forage, or taking over every tool and resource from a conquered tribe, often burning whatever they couldn't use. It struck me that these two regards for life persist even today, and often both perspectives exist in a single individual. Such is the state of the "double-minded" man.

I should mention also that, in looking elsewhere (from biblical texts) for truth, I have come to find that Kabbalah seems to be the grandfather (that is to say, the unwitting predecessor) of almost all modern Abrahamic religion, as well as many eastern religions. If nothing else, it is the origin of much of the religious symbolism I was raised with. But don't let's get me started on that. I only mention it to say that, through studying Kabbalah, I have begun to see hidden esoteric truths in the words of the bible, especially once I stopped trying to take every word literally, as an explicit instruction manual written and translated from many different languages to the point that it literally takes divine intervention to make use of it.

 It actually speaks to me in a deeper way when I allow it to be poetic. After all, much of it is imagery, and little of it is clear instruction. I used to look for clear instruction, in an effort to "lean not unto my own understanding", and I got little more than frustration for my effort. But I find now I have begun to see terms like that in a different light, focusing on the words "lean not" as opposed to the words "own understanding". Or, in other words, focusing on being in balance, as opposed to denying, or relying wholly on, something in my own nature. One's own understanding is crucial to comprehension of God, or His word, and personal meaning. However, "leaning unto one's own understanding" seems a lot like "staying in one's comfort zone"... If you cling to comfort, or certainty, or a certain level of understanding, then it never expands, never grows. And if it does grow, you most certainly don't want it to be "leaning", or it will only grow so far before collapsing. Like a ladder on soft or uneven ground, you risk a fall the higher you climb; you will never reach that "Crown of life". Or , like the wise man says, you must have a sure foundation to build upon. You must have strong roots in order to grow.

What else stood out to me this time around was the term "superfluity of naughtiness", or more specifically the word "naughty". I am not sure, but it seems as though this word "naughty", is one of the stronger synonyms of 'Sin'.To have 'Naught' = nothing, zero, goose egg.

Sin, translated from its greek origin means "to miss the mark", as in an archer missing the bull's eye. It doesn't matter if it is by an inch, or a foot, or a mile, missing the bull's eye is missing the bull's eye. Some might argue that missing by an inch is better than missing by a mile, but ultimately, it comes down to hit, or miss. You either get a point, or you get a zero.

"Naughtiness" then, is a state of having, or deserving no reward. Scoring a zero. Think of a "naughty" child; they are behaving in such a way that would not deserve reward, or praise. Their behavior or effort is deemed
unsatisfactory.

The same with sin. We strive to be like God, but invariably we miss our mark, we sin. We "fall short of the glory of God". We strive for perfection, but sinning is sinning. Though we seem to measure sin in terms of severity, ultimately we are either perfect, or we are sinners. We all "miss the mark". We all get "bad marks" for our unsatisfactory performance. But if the goal (perfection) remains our focus, we find that we become more and more consistent. Perhaps we may hit the mark from time to time, though we may miss again on our next shot. But only in having a goal of perfection are we able to improve toward it.

"Superfluity of naughtiness" I suppose, would then be unmindful, or deliberate, missing of the mark. Simply not putting forth an effort. Not caring, not trying. After all, It is 'easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle...' Or perhaps it is like threading a needle from 100 yards away with a string on an arrow... It seems so beyond us, and perhaps downright unreasonable, so we decide it's not worth the effort. All we have to tell ourselves is that we will never be perfect, we'll never make that one-in-a-billion shot, so why even try? Why beat ourselves up about it? It is easier to not care. So we become the archer who doesn't work on his aim, and blames the target. He simply fires away til he's out of arrows, playing the odds. And when his arrows are gone, he consoles himself that it was simply a matter of luck anyway.

A wise archer knows that he will miss the mark. He knows he is fallible, he is mortal, he is not perfect. But he knows that he can improve himself. He knows that the "bull's eye" represents perfection, but that his personal value is not determined in any single shot. He also knows that without such a goal there can be no measure of improvement. He teaches his hands, and his heart, how to do the best they can, always. Perhaps he'll never thread a needle from 100 yards, but he becomes a dead-eye on a larger target, or on the hunt, where his efforts are rewarded "in kind". It is not enough to know the principles of archery. One may know the physics involved, or the calculations of perfection, but be unable to even nock an arrow. Only practice—consistent practice—makes perfect.

Mindfully practicing being patient, humble, slow to anger, exercising faith, grace, resisting temptation... only with these goals in our hearts and minds do we become this person. Only when we are 'tried' do we receive that 'crown of life'. It is in consistently striving for perfection in these aspects of our lives that we begin to see improvement on our "larger" or "closer" targets. We may never be perfectly patient, or humble, etc. But we do become much more practiced at those traits. We begin to see our rewards "in kind", as we bring these developing skills and qualities into our daily lives, our relationships, or our interactions with complete strangers. I happen to work a job that is continuously trying my patience and humility, and even my physical stamina, but it is an opportunity for me each day to stretch myself, to not let myself resent the job. I want to learn these qualities almost more than I want an income. I am fortunate to have the ability to get both. I am putting into practice what I value. I want to be Christ-like, but I'm not going to just wake up one day with Christ-like qualities.

I actually was thinking about this very thing last night, before I went to bed. Perhaps not in terms of scripture study, but of meditation, or prayer. It occurred to me how in my reading spiritual texts, but not taking adequate time to exercise and develop my personal spirituality, I was a "hearer only", and not so much of a "Doer" (though not consciously in those terms).

 I have been defaulting to that reasoning of "I'll try tomorrow; I'm too exhausted tonight..." And it seems almost inevitably I feel the same way the next night. Again, I seem to apply this in my life in ways that I never would have thought to be relevant before. I am not currently seeking redemption from a savior, but I am seeking to build a stronger sense of, and connection to, a higher power. The concept of Faith has taken on a whole new meaning. 'Faith without works' is like "striving" to hit the bull's eye without ever actually picking up a bow. Or, being a "hearer only", and not a 'doer', is simply thinking about what the words mean (if even that), but not incorporating them into your life. Like reading a phone book, but never making a call. It does nothing for you if you do not acknowledge, and utilize, the connection we each personally have with our Creator. I don't want to get into my personal belief of who God is, but I do recognize a higher power in my life, and when I am able to tap into that higher power, I feel fulfilled, energized, peaceful, compassionate, charitable, patient. I imagine if I were able to be continuously in this place, to have an "eye single to the glory of God", that I would not suffer the doubts of being "double minded". It is what Christ meant when he counseled us to "consider the lilies of the field"... That we draw on our higher power for everything, and don't give way to doubt or worry.

All of that to say, I have recently fallen out of the habit of dedicating my attention to my higher power when I am meditating. I have felt the effects of faltering in my commitment, and I am taking the opportunity to rededicating myself, and a portion of my time, to getting to know myself through meditation, and my higher power through supplication.

Thanks for reading.

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