Reads for the Holidays-why we need to read from all Religions regardless of faith tradition
Commercialism created the fast-paced and stressful holiday season; this haste goes diametrically opposite to what the holiday season spiritually wishes to create, and that is time to slow down, reflect, and connect to gratitude as well as to our fellow humans.
In this blog, I recommend a few books to guide and aid in bringing back the holidays' essence.
We live in a world where books are trying to teach us to read faster. I fear the problem is not that we are not reading fast enough; the problem is that we read too fast, thus missing the opportunity to examine the meaning of the words from all points of view.
Critical reading is a lovely practice of mindfulness. The more we can interpret a text from multiple points of view, the more flexible we become about our journey in life. A flexible perspective of self allows for a life with more peace and unity.
I have a broad interest in history, theology, and philosophy. I have read widely on western philosophy and eastern theologies, but I never dove into the Bible. When I was growing up, my parents, who are firmly grounded in their atheism, always encouraged me to read and be familiar with the Bible; the reason is that we cannot understand art, literature, history, and, more importantly, our current predicament in life without knowledge of the Bible. Why? Because, like it or not, we are living in a Judeo-Christian heritage; you may actively take part in the religion or not, that is irrelevant; our history has evolved due to, out of, and in relationship to the Bible.
What I found interesting is that most of us have a strong emotional reaction either for or against the Bible. Still, I have met very few people who studied and dove into understanding the sacred text from cover to cover. We are reacting to current events, institutions, and society, but that should never be confused and associated directly with scripture. How can we have an opinion about the Bible without taking the time first to read it firsthand and study it?
The current school curriculum is very interested in"inclusivity," as it should be. But our current laws restrict teaching topics of religion or philosophy, but how can we be inclusive if we don't even understand what we are excluding or including? Ignorance does not create inclusivity; ignorance and lack of knowledge create blindness, and dogma, which eventually leads to conflict! To foster inclusivity and peace, we should teach about the world's religions and philosophies, where we seek to understand how they ALL teach human kindness and love, thus fostering our common humanity while discussing where each cultural thought is unique and different. If we only focus on diversity, we will end up with division (language leads the subconscious, but that is a whole different blog). We should aim to understand not just our own culture but many different cultures and appreciate how they are similar, different, and historically related. It is possible to have discussions on religions in a way that is respectful to faith traditions, and the earlier we learn how to hold space for multiple faiths, the more inclusive we get. We do not learn inclusivity from avoidance of topics. Of course, for this, we need to realize that it is not beneficial to teach the minimum to our children to make sure that nobody is left behind, but actually to push our children towards problematic topics and challenge them to think and understand from multiple angles. We will never have an inclusive society if we don't learn how to have conversations politely on difficult topics from an early age. It takes skill and knowledge to be open and patient and listen to others with opposing viewpoints. Of course, for this, we need teachers who are highly trained in the topic and can hold constructive dialogue artistically. Not an easy task, but nothing worthwhile was ever easy... OK, I will leave my soap box :-) So back to the books and my journey.
So I dabbled and read enough of the Bible to understand Art History, which was one of my school degrees. I read many reference and commentary books to build my understanding of mindfulness and psychology, but I never did a systematic study cover to cover. And so I always had a feeling of hypocrisy, like I was cheating the system. Guilt is a beneficial emotion; it can guide us toward the right action, whether a deeper study or an apology. And if our guilt has turned to blame, well, clearly, that is a wake-up call. Blame is just a tool to release responsibility. And I sure did my share of blaming; I am too busy, life is too complex to make time for such an undertaking, bla bla bla. I am sure I am not alone in these excuses.
Blessing in disguise, Covid happened, and I faced staff challenges like many other small business owners. People's goals changed, and I had no choice but to close down one location and simplify. My heart was in quite a turmoil, and I realized this was my opportunity. My heart needed spiritual, philosophical discourse to find meaning and peace. This was the perfect time to start my Bible project.
Instead of making excuses, I created the time to study the scriptures from a multidisciplinary perspective; historical, faith, and philosophical angles. As the project kept growing, I realized I needed to be comfortable with taking a year and a half to complete the study. I am currently a third of the way into my project. I hope writing this blog will also hold me responsible for finishing! :-)
So I dove into my Bible study plan, reading the Bible systematically all the through while following along with four academic lecture series, one faith-based podcast, and a plethora of books guiding my study on historical, faith-based, and theological, philosophical examination of every sentence in the Old and the New Testament. It has been an eye-opening and thrilling time! Oh, the things I assumed, the perspectives I never questioned, and the beauty I never appreciated.
This project hammered away the wisdom that we should never form an opinion till we asked more questions and learned more. We can only grow if we admit that we do not know! Coming from not knowing is delightful; it is only if we come from a place of not knowing that we cultivate inclusivity because we get to know each other through asking questions. And not knowing is the essence of Yoga! Spirituality is the awareness of the present moment; there is nothing more practical to our everyday life than spiritual awareness.
Below you will find a list of books that I stumbled onto during this project, books that encourage us to read slowly and reflect. Books that are perfect for this holiday season.
Reading multidisciplinary studies on scriptures hopes to deepen understanding of self, each other, and our culture; it is never aimed at debunking faith or proselytizing.
Dive into a beautiful reflection on Judaism. Learn how Judaism reads and discusses every word and conjugation of the Torah differently from some Christian perspectives ( Torah is The Pentateuch of the Old Testament). Glance into a lovely family life of a Hebrew-Speaking family that made a habit out of discussing the Torah and the Talmud. This book is eye-opening as it relates to reading the Old Testament, but simultaneously heart-stoppingly kind and wise family narrative.
The Light of the World - A beginner's guide to advent. Amy-Jill Levine is one of my favorite authors/professors on Biblical studies. She has a refreshing, light-hearted attitude toward complex topics. Join her as she traces the Christmas narrative, women's role in first-century Jewish cultures, and the revolutionary implications of Mary's Magnificat.
The Bhagavad Gita, "The Song of the Lord," is the best known of all the Indian scriptures, and Easwaran's translation brings a perfect link to unity between Eastern and Western thoughts. Easwaran is Indian-born and taught mysticism, meditation, and English Literature at UC Berkeley. He also founded Blue Mountain Meditation Center in 1961.
Original Goodness- Eknath Easwaran on the Beatitudes - How mysticism and spirituality can energize our lives, starting with the simple mediation and prayer reflection. This is a lovely small book, regardless of your faith tradition (including atheism); a delight to read thoughts on wisdom, love, compassion, hope, and freedom.
Most of us know Aldous Huxley from his classic novel Brave New World, but in my mind, The Perennial Philosophy, his discussions on the unity of message in all faiths are just as essential to read. Drawing on Zen Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Christian mysticism, and Islam, he explains the common spiritual human yearning to experience the divine, the good, and the love.