I’m Tempted to Start at the Beginning

But what is the “Beginning” and where do we find it? In the Christian context one might consider the beginning to be the book of Genesis. Despite the fact this book is part of the Hebrew bible -and Christians often misread it- but we’ll get to that one of these days!

Herein lies the problem. Despite that most people think of the story of Genesis as the beginning of Christianity -it is the beginning of the bible, after all- it really is not the beginning. A great deal comes first. Most of which we have never even stopped to think about. What might some of these other -more primary- considerations be? Glad you asked! (Said with a chuckle!)

The text itself is more primary. And before the text, the context in which the text was written, and to whom it was written, not to mention by whom and for what reason? (The context of the context.) These are all very important questions. And as every good seminary teaches, in almost every case, each of these vital questions lacks definitive answers. (A point we may return to one of these days.)

Yet even this is not the beginning. That is the text. And the context within and surrounding the text. This is the type of lens one may carry with them throughout historical time frames, asking how the text has been interpreted across the many centuries of its existence. This offers us value. Commonly, the meaning of a text changes over time, and depends upon who is doing the reading. This is an important consideration, but is it the most important?

Which brings us to the Reader.

The text itself has no meaning. No text does. Think about it. It is just ink on paper. Random marks. It is the mind of the reader who brings to the text “meaning.” This seems obvious enough not to bother to mention it, right? Wrong. It is very important to get this, at least if one wishes to read texts and try to conscientiously discern meaning from them.

In reading this blog, you are the one who brings it meaning. I attempted to convey my thoughts to you through time. But once my hand leaves the paper, my part is done. It is you, the Reader, who determines the meaning of what I have written. You bring your life experiences with you. You bring your own understanding of the words I use, which may or many not be mine. As you now read this, there is a great deal going on in your head (and heart) which enters into the process of how you assign meaning to what I have written.

(Are you cheering me on, thoughtfully considering what I offer, or just find me to be a lunatic and wondering why your are reading such drivel? You see? You bring a great deal to the text!)

Now imagine that first you had to translate what I had written from one language to another. Immediately there will be a whole series of little -and not so little- problems you’ll have to work out. Do you translate more for the literal meaning of the words I am using? Or do you translate more for the “meaning” (which you think) I am trying to convey? What do you do when a word I have used does not have a direct translation in your own language?

Now, what if you were working from a translation of a translation? How could you get at the “original meaning” of what I had written when you only had a copy of my work, written in a language different than I used when writing the original?

And so it goes.

I don’t bring all this up to discourage you from reading the bible, or any other sacred text. I do however, wish to convey the importance of thinking clearly about what it is you are actually taking part in while doing so. While clarity of thought cannot always inform the heart, I think mental clarity is still a very useful tool, and one more of us should use more often. (My perhaps naive believe is this will discourage us from clubbing one another over disagreements of perceived meaning.)

But even this is not the beginning!

We might ask ourselves why we are reading in the first place. What is our desired goal? Do we read our sacred texts to inform our minds or inspire our hearts? Do we read for the “outer” (exoteric) meaning, or the “inner” (esoteric) meaning? (These are points I will return to in future blogs.)

I personally think that both have their place. In part, your answer will be dependent upon the type of person you are and how you process information. Are you a “Thinking” person, as am I? Or are you a “Feeling” person (with which I have great difficulty)? Are you an “Intuiting” person, or “Sensing” person?

In short, we do not all think-perceive in the same way!

All of the above influences inform our internal “screening” processes. And not only when reading texts, but as we go about our lives interacting with others, and trying to understand the world, what it all means, and why we are here in the first place. So no, for all these reasons and more, Genesis is not the “beginning” of the bible….

You are!

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