This is Part 3 of the series I began with my post “Sacred or Secular—or Both?” I wrote in that first post:
For some people, spirituality involves chanting, movement, incense, drugs, meditation—but for me, the only possible approach to spirituality is through text study … The bottom line is that “critical” (that is, academic) study of the Bible is for me an essential aspect of the path to connect with revelation.
I realize now that this was a bit of an overstatement. The two “peak” experiences that drew me to this conclusion did not directly involve Bible at all, but “Torah” in its more general sense. In both cases—once, studying with friends; the other, in a public setting—I had a very powerful sense of being connected to a source of mental/spiritual energy. Engaging with biblical texts, and with the later Jewish texts that grew out of them, gives me something of that same feeling, albeit in an earthly, not transcendent, way.
Exod 24:17 tells us:
Now the Presence of the LORD appeared in the sight of the Israelites as a consuming fire on the top of the mountain.
Deut 5:4 explains that this was not just an external phenomenon, but a moment of communication:
Face to face the LORD spoke to you on the mountain out of the fire.
I understand esh (“fire”) to be the Biblical Hebrew equivalent for the modern English word “energy.” My ancestors had an encounter with this energy source that is “beyond time and space”—speaking not in New Age terms, here, but in the language of cosmology—and we’ve been talking about it ever since and trying to make sense of that experience. The Bible grew from that spark, and, for some of us, it remains the best, perhaps the only, way to connect to that source of spiritual energy.
Next time, I intend to return to the 1,000-year history of the creation of the biblical books, and to look at that history through the prism of changes in the Hebrew language.