The Space Between Words: How to read the Bible and other Sacred Texts
In this series Laurence Freeman will help us rediscover the art of reading any sacred text contemplatively, by learning to engage with the books that make up the Hebrew and Christian Bibles.
Some Torah students approached their rabbi with a question about the meaning of a text they could not understand. He asked them to show him the page: ‘what do you see there?’ They replied, ‘the words, the black marks on the page’. He said ‘the words contain half the meaning. The other half is in the white spaces between the words.’
How to read any sacred text is an art for us to re-learn. Monastic wisdom saw it as one of the arts of prayer – lectio divina (literally ‘divine reading’). It goes beyond rational analysis and scholarship (although supported by these approaches) to the deepest and universal spiritual meaning which touches our vision of reality.
This course opens lectio as a way to experience the full meaning, both in the words and the empty, silent spaces between them, uniting mind and heart. It enriches consciousness, opening the eye of the heart with the key of the sacred texts. This art then prepares us for the deepest art of all, meditation itself, which takes over the language frontier into the reality the words point to.
Science and technology have made observers of us all. It has locked us into the cage of superficiality, of trying to measure and explain everything. Consequently, we have lost the art of reading sacred scripture, dismissing it as ‘myth’ and drying up an essential source of wisdom for our time.
In this series Laurence Freeman will help us rediscover the art of reading any sacred text contemplatively, by learning to engage with the books that make up the Hebrew and Christian Bible. Christians believe the Word became flesh but it is also true, as St Bernard said, that the ‘Word takes flesh’ as something ‘alive and active’ penetrating to the core of human being. We then see why the art of reading scripture opens us to being intimately read by it within the daily changing story of our lives: the therapy of scripture.
After giving an overview of world scripture, Laurence will guide a way into reading the Bible as if for the first time or, as Cassian said, “as if we had written it ourselves.” Each session will be interactive and there will be small groups between the monthly classes that will read given texts together.
Bible translations differ widely according to personal and scholarly taste. The Jerusalem Bible (1966) or especially the New English Bible (1970) are Laurence’s personal choices.
Register for the Full Series
Register for full series (get 10 talks for the price of 7)
All sessions are preceded by a group meditation (optional)
Time to interact with the speakers
Lifetime access to recordings (single sessions registrations give 1 year access)
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Schedule of Dates & Themes
18 September 2023
Episode 1: Writing the Sacred
The first session explores the words Śhruti and Smrti in the Indian tradition which highlight the distinction between the original scripture and later commentaries. We will have a brief overview of the main traditions that have their own scriptures (some are purely oral). Then we open the Bible. Please have a bible at hand. Byblos means ‘book’ but contains 73 books in very different genres. We look at how it took shape. Scripture depends on and always invites interpretation. Reading between the lines makes it enlightening and enriching.
13 November 2023
Episode 2: Learning to move from Myth to Logos
Myth is not fake news but a particular way of describing the mysteries of life. Myth can also merge with history and influence it. Becoming so left-brained, we lost the art of understanding myth. Meditation, by balancing the two hemispheres of the brain, helps us to recover the art. Culturally, as we lost the agility to move from myth to logos, literalism and fundamentalism grew. We will look at a contemporary way to approach myth beginning at the beginning with Creation, Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel.
18 December 2023
Episode 3: Wisdom and the Song
In ancient Israel as in Greece, wisdom was an aspiration that helped one live life better. The wise person could interpret parables and understand riddles. But rulers were expected to act from wisdom. It was also seen as a playful emanation of God. Why has wisdom today become so overshadowed by scientific knowledge? Can meditation help recover it? Christ embodied was seen as the incarnation of wisdom and we will look at The Song of Songs, the unique example in the bible of erotic poetry, to understand better why ‘the body is the sacred language of Christianity’.
12 February 2024
Episode 4: The Prophets and the Axial Age
The Hebrew prophets flourished in the axial age (about 500BCE) and they show its enduring influence on religious thought, the understanding of God in relation to human society and the issue of justice. The prophets express a new understanding of human destiny and how interiority (‘mercy not sacrifice’) re-interpret earlier stages of the tradition, helping us today to distinguish between true and false prophets.
18 March 2024
Episode 5: Diversity and Unity in the New Testament
This class introduces the New Testament, the personal visiting card of Jesus. We will see how the diversity of views in the four gospels surprisingly heighten their unity of vision. The New Testament contains all the elements of later conflicts in the churches. Uncomfortable to those who see to control and make the Spirit uniform, this shows that the teaching of Jesus is not an ideology but a transformative encounter in a love that respects difference and identity. We need the art of reading scripture especially in reading the gospels.
29 April 2024
Episode 6: Jesus’s Question: “Who do you say I am?”
Most biblical wisdom texts employ the art of narrative and story-telling – lives and personal character more than abstract concepts. Each gospel tells the life of Jesus and the teaching he lived. Even with remarkably little personal detail about him, we sense we are encountering a unique individual. Christianity combines contemplative practice with active compassion because it’s about the human relationship with God. The question of Jesus is not expecting the correct answer. It draws us into deeper relationship with the human person who is sufficiently vulnerable and self-confident to ask it. Like meditation, it is about a relationship on the way to becoming union.
10 June 2024
Episode 7: The Gospel of John: The sacred language of Christianity is the body
The Gospel of John is the most mystical of the four gospels; but it is also where we see Jesus at his most human and divine. It is the Gospel in which Jesus was tired after a day’s walking, wept at the death of a friend and also where he says ‘the father and I are one’.
In these two classes we will explore how the fourth gospel distilled a century of contemplative reflection on Jesus with the expanding self-awareness of a community discovering itself as the Body of Christ. It gives us the deepest insight into the paradox of the union between God and humanity, illuminating, through Jesus, our destiny for divinization on the path of becoming fully human.
15 July 2024
Episode 8: Acts of the Apostles and the Early Church
Acts was written at the end of the 1st century: a founding myth of Jesus missioning the disciples across time and the planting of the seeds of the church. What is this mission? What does ‘baptise the nations’ mean today? Early Christians rode a wave they hardly understood but discovered the universality of Jesus’ teaching the more they realised his presence within and among them. For them, as for us who face a radical refounding of Christianity, growth involved the pain of separation and internal conflict but it brought them – as us – an empowering wonder.
30 September 2024
Episode 9: Reading St. Paul
St Paul has got a bad press, often accused of taking the gospel where Jesus didn’t intend. But the unique blend in his letters of personality, metanoia and mystical experience in fact shows us what faith means and where it takes us. His gliding from theological insights that still propel us to the details of community life and conflict expresses the particular hybrid nature of biblical scripture that we have been exploring throughout this course.