Not written much recently so I going to do several posts in one day. This one is about spiritual stuff so if you are not interested, hey I tagged it as such.
For as long as I have been involved in my search for Spiritual meaning in my life (as an adult), I have been unable to read one book on spirituality.
Now just to put that into context I love reading. I am a big Pratchett fan, I love to read about history, about different places, times. I am a bit of a geek, so I read sometimes about computers. I did a degree in Social policy/Sociology which meant I read a fair few books. I read web pages and whole websites.
When it comes to spirituality, though, I cannot read. I might get through a chapter or a poem, but I seem(ed) to have a block. I managed to read a book once: a children’s story about a young girl who was a Quaker and was living in London in the time of the plague.
This caused me a lot of problems. I have never read the Bible, and whilst I can dip into Quaker Faith and Practice (http://www.quakerweb.org.uk/qfp/ ) and Advices and Queries and get something out of it, I cannot read a whole book, or understand and retain it.
For some time I have passed this off as being the fault of the book I was attempting to read – there are always some books it is hard to get into. I never managed to read The Lord of the Rings; I got half way through book one and gave up. I was incredulous when my son told me at 7 years old that he wanted the second book in the trilogy. He had managed to get through, understand and love a book I was not able to read. It is not my style of book: I don’t like ‘questy’ books. For that matter I am not much into thrillers or war books. Maybe, I thought, Spiritual books are just not my style.
I would borrow books from the various Meeting libraries and take them back unread. It surely couldn’t just be that every author wrote in a style I didn’t like. I was very worried by the fact that I seemed to literally have a block between reading and retaining it. I thought maybe I was being lazy, reading fiction instead of what I ought to be reading. It was becoming a burden. I would talk at the end of Meeting about my experience, and would Minister in Meeting, but I had no theoretical background to base anything on. I couldn’t read George Fox and quote him, or Penn. When people spoke about the various virtues of different Quakers I would feel ashamed.
Recently I went on a course about Spiritual friendship, because I really wanted to learn how to find a friend with whom I could discuss Spiritual matters. At the end there were books on display. I didn’t bother looking, because I know they would lie, along with the other books that I had not been able to read, in a pile in the bedroom. This course did fuel me into realising that I had actually already had a person who could act as a spiritual friend.
This lovely lady, called Anne, is a person I very much admire. She was, until recently, the clerk of our Meeting and knows so much. She is a highly literate woman, a poet and librarian. On my bookshelf (in pride of place) is the start of her autobiography; a fascinating book all about her childhood and early life in Blackpool and Rochdale. It only goes up to a certain point in her life, and she says she will never continue it whilst the other ‘actors’ in her life are alive, which means it will never be finished.
Anyway I digress; during a session with her I told her about this. It was the first time that I had ever spoken to anyone about this block. We discussed why and this is what I told her.
For years I have felt that knowledge was vital to my own personality. My sister had the looks and I had the brains. We knew that our parents held this view right from being tiny. Actually my sister and I looked very alike, especially when forced into identikit (but different sized) clothes. The main difference is that my sister did not wear glasses and was not covered in eczema (or bandages to hide it). I remember my mother making matching dresses for both my sister and me, and making my brother wear a matching blazer (ours were red, his was blue). Oh yes we had a family uniform. She would knit us all cardigans to match. Even my dad and mum would have the same design of Arran cardigan. My sister is not unintelligent either, she has ammassed a huge load of knowledge on farming and catering, and is about to start her own company. She always had brains! (digression again).
So it became my pride. I had brains, but then I was too lazy to use them: I hated writing, but retain knowledge like a sieve. I always did really well in exams, but coursework was an absolute pain. So when it came to school leaving time I was told, quite clearly, that my parents did not have the money to keep me going to college. I had to get a job.
Even at work I was the clever one; always had my nose in a book; always knew about the processes in whatever job I did, because I read up on it. When I got made redundant I ended up going to University. I was the first member of my family to graduate. I don’t know anyone in my family (even distantly) who graduated. So again I was proud.
Knowledge, though, is not important to be a spiritual person. You could go through the full academic route without ever knowing God; never experiencing that most wonderful feeling of being in touch with the Spirit. It is most important to feel, to experience, the wonder of it all. Knowledge is not the same as faith. Faith is……… another blog
I liken it to gardening, I could read up on how to plant a rose, could go through all the motions, could grow the perfect rose, but never feel the absolute bliss of smelling the perfume and appreciating the perfection of the colour and beauty of that perfect rose. I do this with my parsnips, I grow them and appreciate the growth; I feel such excitement when I see the first green tips coming through the soil and then the joy of pulling them up when they are grown. I love the smell of them, and then the utter ecstasy of tasting the soup which my beloved so carefully cooks.
There is no way that this could be captured in a book. I can tell you but you could not feel it, except as an image, a pale ghost of that joy.
(Ah, we are made in the image of God – now there is a blog)
I think that is why I had that block. Some part of me knew that my own pride would come in the way of reaching the experience of the Divine, so I put up a block. I would not start on with the knowledge until I realised that it would not lead me to the Divine. I also needed to know that though I aspired to be like those other Quakers and people of faith, I wouldn’t get there just through reading about it. It was a lesson I had to learn.
Having discussed it with Anne, I thought long and hard about it. I also explained it to my husband who had often handed me books that he found insightful and felt dismissed when i did not read them. I now needed to get over that block. I have to temper that reading, that knowledge, with prayer, meditation, communion with the Spirit and also in discussion with others.
Out of love and respect for my husband I decided to first try and read one of the books which he found really important. I thought that my best tack was to take a pencil and underline the important bits and re-read as many time as it took to get through my head. After the first few chapters I found this is not necessary. I am two thirds of the way through and I will finish it – not because I am forcing myself but because I have found it interesting and insightful. Oh, I can disagree with some of it, some of it I would argue very strongly with, but it is fascinating and I want to read all three of the trilogy.
I seem to have broken the block, and look forward to reading all those books stacked in the bedroom.
Which leads me to the point of this whole blog. Genesis, the tree of knowledge and all that.
Someone on a posting on the TOGs website mentioned the tree of knowledge and all the sudden I saw it as directly related to my own experience. What she said was:
I know I’m digressing a bit, but I’ve often pondered about the account in Genesis that describes Eve and then Adam’s sin of eating from the banned tree of knowledge (of good and evil). I don’t understand what the metaphor is getting at – yes the sin was defying God’s instruction, but why should knowledge in all of it’s forms (or even just having a conscience about good and evil), have been banned in the first place?
I think that the reason that the fruits of the tree of knowledge were forbidden is that knowledge can become the sole reason for itself. It can get in the way of the expeirience of the ultimate joy. I think it is saying, in metaphor, right at the beginning of theis sacred text, “just don’t read this and think that is all you have to do”. The serpent is the very attractive idea that knowledge is the key to everything, instead of experiencing the blissful innocence of our natural selves, loving all that is around us, we use our knowledge to take ourselves away from the garden. We make rules about what we should wear, and how we should love. There is nothing wrong with having knowledge (the tree is always there to be admired) but don’t consume (be consumed) by the attainment of knowledge at the expense of doing.