So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat.And he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it; and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.Ezekiel 3:3
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Missing the Point (and the Baklava)
The following parable from the Zohar shows how reading the scripture on a superficial level alone deprives the seeker of the "delectable delights" of the sweetness of intimacy with God. Learning and arrogance can get in the way of experiencing the text.
There was a man who lived in the mountains.
He knew nothing about those who lived in the city.
He sowed wheat and ate the kernels raw.
One day he entered the city.
They brought him good bread.
He said, “What is this for?”
They said, “Bread, to eat!”
He ate, and it tasted very good.
He said, “What is it made of?” They said, “Wheat.”
Later they brought him cakes kneaded in oil.
He tasted them and said, “And what are these made of?”
They said, “Wheat.”
Finally they brought him royal pastry made with honey and oil.
He said, “And what are these made of?” They said, “Wheat.”
He said, “I am the master of all of these, for I eat the essence of all these: wheat!”
Because of that view, he knew nothing of the delights of the world; they were lost to him.
So it is with one who grasps the principle
And does not know all those delectable delights
Deriving, diverging from that principle.”
Daniel Chanan Matt, Zohar, Introduction, Paulist Press p.38-39
Finding the Hidden Spirit
If we think of human beings, we see they are mortal in their visible properties but immortal in their invisible qualities. So with Scripture. It contains the letter, the visible text, which is transitory. But it also contains the spirit hidden beneath the letter, and this is never extinguished and this ought to be the object of our contemplation…. The further the letter is divorced from it, the more relevance the spirit acquires. The more the shadow of the literal sense retreat, the more the shining truth of the faith advances. And this is exactly why Scripture was composed.
Maximus the Confessor (580-682), Mystgogia, 6 (PG91, 684) Drinking from the Hidden Fountain; A Patristic Breviary
Sasetta, 1423, St. Thomas Acquinas Inspired by the Holy Spirit Detail: monastic choir books
Four Levels of Reading Scripture
In the Jewish tradition: PaRDeS – an orchard or garden (or Paradise). (P)ashat “simple”the literal meaning (R)emez “hint”allegorical, linking to other texts, rational, philosophical (D)rash “search” moral meaning, homiletical (S)od “hidden”mystical, anagogic Christian Patristic and Medieval Literal, literary, reading the story as story Allegorical/ typologicallinking to other stories and texts, how does this text apply to personal/ social/cultural situations, (also used by Patristics to “pre-figure” Christian themes in the Hebrew scriptures) Tropologicalmoral, homeletical, Mystical / anagogical transcendent meaning It is tempting and safe to reduce the symbols to a familiar scheme: psychological, historical, literary, orreligious.But do not forfeit wonder. - Daniel Chanan MattZohar, Introduction p.38 (Paulist Press Edition)
The Bible is a scented garden, delightful, beautiful.It enchants our ears with birdsong in a sweet, divine and spiritual harmony, it touches our heart, comforts us in sorrow, soothesus in a moment of anger, and fills us with eternal joy. Let us knock at its gate with diligence and with perseverance.Let us not be discouraged from knocking.The latch will be opened. If we have read a page of the Bible two or three times and have not understood it, let us not be tired of re-reading it and meditating on it.Let us seek in the fountain of this garden “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).We shall taste a joy that will never dry up, because the grace of the Bible garden is inexhaustible.
-John Damascene (675-749), On the Orthodox Faith(Drinking from the Hidden Fountain; A Patristic Breviary)
Reading Interrupted by Prayer At fixed hours time should be given to certain definite reading.Haphazard reading, constantly varied and lighted on by chance does not edify but makes the mind unstable.Taken into the memory lightly, it leaves it even more lightly.You should concentrate on certain authors and let your mind grow used to them…. Some part of your daily reading should be committed to memory every day, taken as it were into the stomach, to be more carefully digested and brought up again for frequent rumination – something in keeping with your vocation and helpful to concentration, something that will take hold of the mind and save it from distraction. The reading should also stir your affections and give rise to prayer, which should interrupt your reading – an interruption which should not so much impede the reading as to restore to it a mind ever more purified for understanding. For reading serves the purpose of the intention with which it is done.If a reader truly seeks God in the reading, everything he reads tends to promote that end, making the mind surrender in the course of the reading and bring all that is understood into Christ’s service.
- William of Saint Thierry (1085-1148) The Golden Epistle 1.120-124
Body and Soul There is garment and body and soul and soul of soul. … The soul we have mentioned is the Beauty of Israel who is real Torah. – Zohar
Just as a human being is said to be made up of body, soul, and spirit, so also is sacred scripture. – Origen De Principiis 4:2,4
The outward sense of the Qur’an is like Adam’s body: only its exterior is visible; its soul is hidden. –Rumi