What Are You Reading?
On a recent pilgrimage, I spent some time contemplating sacred texts.
I wonder what your images are as you read this sentence? Does it change if I mention that the pilgrimage was a trip to Atlantic City? This is not the usual place for contemplating much of anything beyone the slot machine, I suppose. But I was attending a professional conference there and a workshop I took referred to the "reading of sacred text" as a common basis for prayer practice and, naturally, caught my attention.
Nothing really radically new there; obviously, all major religions have their sacred texts on which not only prayer, but belief, is often anchored. The Bible, the Koran, the Talmud, the Vedas, the Sutras - we all have some connection with some of these texts either directly thorough our own religious upbringing and practice, or being familiar with others through friends, or our studies, not only of the world's religions but of history, art, literature and culture as well.
I have a natural resistance to narrowing concepts and the revolutionary in me wanted to deconstruct this term and make it available to the masses! What actually does "sacred" mean, and who gets to decide what is sacred and what isn't?
Last year at this conference, I presented a workshop on integrating spirituality into psycho-therapeutic practice. Most psychotherapists don't use the word "sacred", but I think we should because this is exactly what we mean. The origin of the word "holy", a synonym for "sacred", comes from an Old English word halig meaning "whole" and "sound, healthy, entire, complete".
This is exactly what we aspire to achieve in psychotherapy. And for most of us, whether we are participating in therapy or not, whether it is conscious or not, this is a life-long question and search. The pull to resonance - to align what we believe is true with the way we live - is hard-wired in us.
What are the ways we do this? Most of us start out by integrating what is sacred to our parents and our families, societies and cultures. Later, we often rebel and reject these concepts and begin the life-long search and challenge of finding our own. Our personal journeys become sacred and the tools we use to sort it all out - our experiences and stories we tell and share with each other - become sacred as well.
In this way then, the idea of "sacred texts" burgeons into a resource of infinite possibility: biography, poetry, self-help, blogs. A self-described "non-believer" friend describes song lyrics as being the sacred text for moving him into his deepest spiritual Self, although he does not use these words! Our aptly-named friend Joy creates a program for young adults which asks each participant to bring a song that represents their lives and their journey.
I realize now that part of the exhilaration of reading the essays submitted to our scholarship contest was that we were reading sacred texts. A definition of "sacred" from Vocabulary.com includes "worthy of awe and respect, intended to be treated with care and respect". And, "imparting a divine influence on the mind and soul". I can attest to what made these stories of prayer experience resonate for us was the obvious care and respect the writers gave to their own experiences.
Perhaps prayer actually begins with the search for what is holy to us - what makes us whole, and what is sacred to us. Where do we place our care and our respect in our own lives?
What sacred texts have you read today?