“I take the Bible literally!”
I hear this all the time. For that matter, I used to say it myself. Then, one day, I decided I no longer needed to pretend that I do when, of course, neither I nor anyone else really does.
Here’s an example of what I mean.
Once, Jesus said, “And when you pray…go into your closet and there pray to your Father in secret” (Matt. 5).
To fulfill this injunction on prayer, a literalist of scripture would have to designate an actual closet in his or her home in order to satisfy a literal reading of these words. But that would be to miss the point of Jesus’ words entirely. Not partially but entirely.
So, what was Jesus really saying?
The point Jesus was making was quite symbolic, as were most of the things he said. Prayer…we might even say, real prayer is not the exchange of words at all. Words are OK and we may sometimes use them. But, more often than not, words are a hindrance to intimacy. Prayer, on the other hand, or intimacy with God, is immersion of oneself in an Ocean of Silence…which is, of course, the very presence of God herself. That is to say, the more you immerse yourself in this Ocean of Presence, the less beneficial you find words to be.
Ever tried to speak underwater?
Why would you need words anyway? For what purpose do they serve? When someone prays, for example, and says something like, “Dear God, we invite your Presence to be in our midst today” are they not just acknowledging they feel separate from God and, as a consequence, little or no intimacy with her?
Why would you ask God to be where God is already?
I used to think of prayer, and so practiced it myself, the way most religious people still do today. I thought of prayer as a way to rub the proverbial Aladdin’s Lamp. I used words the way Aladdin used his hands to stroke the lamp – in my case, to stroke and stir the presence of God. Aladdin sought to release the Genie. I sought to release God. Aladdin wanted his wishes fulfilled. I wanted my prayers answered and my misperception of God’s absence overcome.
Isn’t this all prayer is for most people today?
So, again, what is real prayer?
Once, Mother Teresa was asked, “When you pray, what do you say to God?”
“I say nothing,” she responded. “I do not talk. I listen instead.”
Then came the follow-up question.
“So, as you listen, what does God say to you?”
Mother Teresa responded, “Nothing at all. He listens.”
Ponder this! For it is an example of the possibility of intimacy with Presence itself. When you know this kind of oneness with God…this kind of oneness with yourself…what would be the point of words?