This is the first of two community queries that I’m posting. I love scripture and I have a ton of favorite sacred texts. Over the years, I’ve shared many of them with you. But I would like to turn the tables here. I want to hear about your favorite scripture. I want to learn from you. And I want you to learn from each other. Let’s inspire each other. Let’s spiritually nurture one another. Please take a moment to share your favorite scripture with everyone in the comments below.
Thank you for being a part of this community! I’m so grateful for you.
I recently came across a quote by Gautama Buddha that said: “Seek not to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; rather, seek what they sought.”
This idea struck me as exactly what I needed to hear. I have spent the past 16-years devouring scripture. I have been an A+ student, working to understand the scriptures that I love, perfectly. I have worked to understand their history, authorship, context, translation, meaning…
But I’m beginning to realize that what I seek isn’t actually perfect understanding, but rather, spiritual enlightenment. I yearn for the presence of God in my life. I yearn for connection with Divine Mystery, the kind of connection that will transform my soul.
I’m also coming to realize that Divine Mystery is deeply earthbound. Or at least the Divine Mystery that I have access to. Because I am deeply earthbound. I am an embodied human being. I am only able to understand existence, life, death, love, grief, and God, through my flesh. Through my bones. Through my breath. Through my heart. And, of course, through my mind. But I must remember that mind cannot be disconnected from body. (Try as we Westerners might, it cannot be done.)
I’ve come to realize that the connection I yearn for, the kind that will transform my soul, arrives through the feeling of dirt under my feet. Of morning air in my lungs. Through human touch. Through movement. Through the lump that forms in my chest when I see a stranger crying. Through the pleasure I feel when my niece says “auntie.”
I am finally coming to see that God loves bodies––all of them. And that I just might be able to feel the presence of God more deeply if I learn to love bodies too, mine, and all the rest. For why else, are we embodied?
This post is about scripture. Or more specifically, about our connection––as embodied beings––to scripture. Scripture through the lens of who we are and what we seek.
“Seek not to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; rather, seek what they sought.”
What did the embodied human beings that wrote, loved, and protected what we now call scripture seek?
As we study the history, memories, songs, poetry, and prose that they left us, what do we learn? What do we learn about being embodied human beings in search of Divine Mystery? What do we learn about our earthbound existence? About our love and grief? About our fear? About our connection?
It is my dream that this post will inspire you to share your favorite scripture. It is my dream that this thread will fill up with scripture and personal commentary. Commentary that has nothing to do with “correct interpretation” and everything to do with personal transformation. I want to know why you love the scriptures that you love. I want to know how they have effected and inspired you. I want to know what you seek when you read them.
I will start.
A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” –Mark 1:40-41
I have loved this scripture for so many years that I don’t remember when I first encountered it.
As we know, leprosy is a contagious disease that causes skin discoloration and disfigurement. But when you look the word up in the dictionary, you’re also told that it refers to moral corruption. And that lepers are avoided for moral and social reasons. Lepers used to have to call out “unclean, unclean” whenever they walked among people, so that they could be avoided.
I’m lucky to receive human touch every day. I imagine that lepers are not. I have no idea how long it had been since the leper in this scripture had been touched, but I’m confident it wasn’t anytime recent. He was an outcast, avoided and shunned by his community.
I love this scripture because of Jesus’ reaction. Before he spoke, he touched the leper. He stretched out his hand and touched him. He used his body to connect with the body of a diseased, shunned man. He gave him the gift that I’m sure he yearned for. Human connection. He reminded the man that God loves bodies––all of them.
In this story I am called to notice the bodies that I avoid. That I shun. That I withdraw from. Who are the embodied creatures that I’m unwilling to be in community with?
I love this scripture because it paints a picture of a humanity that’s willing to risk their own bodies for the healing of others. It tells me that if any one of us is sick, then we are all sick. And in order to heal, we have to be willing to reach out our hands and touch the sickness.
I’m not yet brave enough to do this every time I have the opportunity. But I’m a little braver than I used to be. And I keep reading this scripture, seeking to love my world so deep that bravery begins to come more easily.
And another favorite.
All this, whatever there is in the universe, is for habitation by the Lord. Renounce and enjoy. Do not covet. –Isha Upanishad verse 1
I fell in love with this scripture during a long conversation with my friend Jeanell. She’s the only person I’ve ever met that thinks sitting around for hours, surrounded by piles of scripture from all sorts of traditions, and talking about God is just about the best thing a person can do. We’d been talking for about 5 hours I think. We’d had our hands in several different texts, when for some reason, we started talking about the Isha Upanishad. I think I read the whole thing (18 verses) out loud to her. And then we started talking about the first verse. And we became struck by the phrase: “All this is for habitation by the Lord.” We sat there is silence for a long while. We looked out the window. We cried a little bit.
Coming from the Quaker tradition, habitation by the Lord isn’t necessarily a new concept for me. We Quakers talk about “That of God within all Beings” and “The Light Within” a lot. As long as I’ve believed in God, I’ve never believed in a God up in the sky somewhere. I’ve always understood God as a part of me and a part of everyone else. (Or at least I think I have… Memory is a funny thing! But it feels so true to me now that I can’t imagine not believing it.)
But that day, Jeanell and I heard this belief a little differently. We heard: “All this is for habitation by the Lord.” We heard: “All this exists to be a home for God.” It’s different, do you see? It’s more particular than “God is within you.” It’s that you exist to be a home for God. And we wondered, if we were to actually believe this scripture, how would we see the world differently? If my body, and your body, and the blade of grass, and the moon, and the earthquake, and the ocean, and your cat, and the tree that my neighbors just cut down all existed to be a home for God, how would that change my view of the world? Of my body? Of my life? Of my relationships? Of my goals?
All this exists to be a home for God. Renounce and enjoy. Do not covet.
I read this scripture to remember how small I am. When my insecurities and my anxieties, my angers and my jealousies become too strong, I read this scripture to remember that I exist to be a home for God. And so does the person I’m angry at or jealous of. And my anxiety and insecurity? What idea of myself am I holding so tightly that fear is arising? What am I attached to? I read this scripture to loosen my grip. To let go of my covetous fantasies. To renounce the fruit of my work. To enjoy my work. To enjoy my life. I read this scripture because when I remember that I exist to be a home for God, my view shifts. I am humbled. I can let go of my need to be right, to be perfect. I can just be.
I can be the home for God that I am.
What scriptures do you love? Please share them with us.
Simple: God is love. I say Love is God. The book that most supports my prayer now is so very simple: Celtic Benediction, by J. Philip Newell. After all the years of wandering in Spirit, I am 77 years old now, and it’s all become so simple. I can still study deeply, explore all the sacred possibilities, but the core of me is finally at home and I am contented for the first time in my life.
This is so lovely Sarah. Thank you for sharing with us! Years ago, when I first starting intentionally making art as an adult, it was all centered around the theme “God is Love.” I need to see if I can find any of it… I’m inspired by your sharing and so happy for the contentment you have found in your life. Blessings to you.
Oh thank you Summer! I’ve been meaning to ask you to send me the exact translation that tripped us into that meditative reverie, realizing that the verse meant that all exists as a habitation for the lord. I do so love sitting in piles of scripture with you, I have an image of kids in a playpen, but instead it’s us in sacred texts 🙂 im so glad you shared this post because it makes the idea of scripture more accessible! My (current) favorite is maybe a little unconventional, that’s the Daniel Ladinsky translation of Hafiz. The simple poetry and unconventional,embodied, ecstatic nature of it has a way of cutting through mental stories or difficult inner states for me. I also love that Ladinsky is clear that it’s not a direct translation, that he instead had mystical experiences with Hafiz and wrote these translations from that place. So it’s a very embodied, current work as well as an ancient text. There’s a way in which that honors the essence of Hafiz, though also I have found similar depth with very direct and unaltered translations such as the Isha that you quoted. Oh and here’s an interesting thing I recently learned about leprosy: the disease itself does not damage the tissue. The disease damages the sensory nerves, and when people can’t feel their bodies they bang into things, over use things, and burn themselves. They destroy their own bodies because their bodies don’t feel like their own. One of the main ways of working with leprosy is to educated people about how to use their bodies safely and in an embodied way. Like yoga!
Hooray! I’m so glad your enjoyed the post Jeanell. I look forward to many more scripture play dates with you! Would you be willing to share a few lines from Hafiz that are currently inspiring you?? I would love to read a bit of the actual scripture you’re talking about.
A excerpt from “A Cushion for Your Head” from The Gift: Poems by Hafiz, by Daniel Ladinsky, p. 183
“Just sit there right now
Don’t do a thing
For your separation from God,
Is the hardest work
I discovered the Radiant Sutras last year and I wrote down a number of excerpts and here is the one I wrote on an index card to remember: “Entering the stillness beneath the waves with every breath, Bless the life that surrounds you; Live your whole life as a celebration; Worship is offering your heart to the vast mystery of the universe.”
Beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing Kathy! I’m unfamiliar with the Radiant Sutras, but will look them up.
I love this psalm as it reminds me that there is literally nothing that separates me from the Spirit /Creator.
Psalm 139:1-12New King James Version (NKJV)
7 Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
8 If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,”
Even the night shall be light about me;
12 Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You,
But the night shines as the day;
The darkness and the light are both alike to You.
Oh, this is so lovely. Thank you so much for sharing Deborah!
For those of you that don’t know, I was lucky enough to have Deborah as my pastor about a dozen years ago. It was one of the deepest blessings.
Deborah you are a gift in this world. Thank you for sharing with us.