Many Long Islanders attend worship services, pray and meditate, but how often do most people make time to crack open and read a holy book? This week’s clergy discuss how reading Scripture can help those who desire it to better understand humanity and the word of God.
Rabbi Art Vernon
Congregation Shaaray Shalom, West Hempstead
In the Jewish tradition, we read from two sections of the Hebrew Bible every week. One passage is from the Five Books of Moses, or the Torah, and the other passage is from the prophetical books, either from the historical prophets such as Joshua and Samuel, or the literary prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah. Both passages can be read from either a human perspective or a divine perspective. The stories of the patriarchs — Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — describe challenges that humans have faced since the beginning of time. The stories of Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness present situations that are similar to many of our contemporary issues. The stories in the prophetic books and the orations by the major prophets help us understand the dynamics of society and interplay between the individual and society, issues that still reverberate in our day. By studying how our ancestors approached their difficulties and overcame them, we learn about our humanity and we learn strategies that might be useful to us.
From the divine perspective, these narratives reveal how our ancestors experienced God in their lives and challenge us to see God working in our lives today. The role of God in the world and in our lives is a reality that many of us find either confusing or mysterious. Reading and studying Scripture opens up the possibility of our embracing what our faithful ancestors readily accepted and gives us language to explore these issues in a contemporary setting.
Teacher, Arya Samaj of Long Island, Hicksville
Members of the Arya Samaj follow the teachings of the Vedas. We accept the Vedas to be the eternal wisdom of the Divine Being. In Sanskrit language, the most sublime name of the divine is Om. Every week we read Veda mantras in our rituals, prayers and discourse. For example, for the first few weeks of this current year, we discussed the first mantra from the 40th Chapter of the Yajur Veda. The meaning of the first mantra is as follows: Ishwar (The Divine Being) permeates and protects everything in this changing universe. Enjoy the things of the world knowing that ultimately you will leave it. Do not be greedy for the wealth of another person.
This mantra has many practical applications. First, when we acknowledge a higher, supreme being for what we have in life, we express gratitude, which brings humility. Second, we find meaning in this life by using what we accumulate by ethical means. Third, we are satisfied with our efforts and are not greedy for what we do not have. Members are encouraged to reflect, discuss these teachings and try their utmost best to practice them.
The Rev. Mark Bigelow
Pastor, The Congregational Church of Huntington, United Church of Christ
One of the least utilized spiritual resources, in my view, is reading the Bible. As the story of God’s relationship with humans, the Bible may give us support in our pain, guidance in our actions and challenge as we grow in faith. Unfortunately, many people who turn to the Bible become quickly confused by the unfamiliar language or the foreign context.
These problems can be overcome by a new perspective when reading the spiritual texts. The Bible is the record of human encounters with God. Written and compiled thousands of years ago, it reflects a very different time period than our own. It also reflects the views and questions of the authors and editors. This means there are contradictions and mistakes within the rich theological reflections. One can become quickly frustrated to look for the Bible for perfect conclusions or quick answers.
To read the Bible is to enter the historical discussion between God and humans. The Bible’s authors were, like us, doing their best to open their lives to God’s presence. And though their time period may be much different than ours, the questions they address are eternal. When taken in context, we may be inspired by their faith in times of troubles. We may find hope for liberation as did the Israelites, and may be challenged to love our neighbor as Jesus taught. Spirituality is not a private pursuit and is deepened by engagement with a religious community — and that community includes our brothers and sisters of faith in the Bible.