Our aim is to be in dialogue with our neighbors and with the texts that have influenced their lives. In so doing the texts are lifted up as if they are poems that we can freely interpret and respond to as we wish. We use texts from The World's Wisdom by Philip Novak.
Our format is for one of us - Sophia or Jay - to read the texts aloud and share a response, after which the group as a whole responds to the reader's response or to the text. We treat the texts respectfully, but also recognize that they can be interrogated and that the meaning of a text will differ from person to person. There is no need to agree with a text or to agree on what it means. Think of the text is a dialogue partner. Our aim is to be in dialogue with the text so that we can be in dialogue with one another and better serve the world.
Texts from Chinese Daoism
The Tao te Ching
The Tao Itself
The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal Name. The unnameable is the eternally real. Naming is the origin of all particular things. The Tao is like a well: used but never used up. It is like the eternal void: filled with infinite possibilities. It is hidden but always present. I don’t know who gave birth to it. It is older than God. The Tao is called the Great Mother: empty yet inexhaustible, it gives birth to infinite worlds. It flows through all things, inside and outside, and returns to the origin of all things.
Living in Harmony with the Tao: The Quiet Mind
Empty your mind of all thoughts. Let your heart be at peace. Watch the turmoil of beings, but contemplate their return. Each separate being in the universe returns to the common source. If you don’t realize the source, you stumble in confusion and sorrow. When you realize where you come from, you naturally become tolerant, disinterested, amused, kindhearted as a grandmother, dignified as a king. Immersed in the wonder of the Tao, you can deal with whatever life brings you, and when death comes, you are ready.
Living in Harmony with the Tao: Wu-Wei He who stands on tiptoe doesn’t stand firm. He who rushes ahead doesn’t go far. He who tries to shine dims his own light. He who defines himself can’t know who he really is. He who has power over others can’t empower himself. He who clings to his work will create nothing that endures. If you want to accord with the Tao, just do your job, then let go. A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent upon arriving…The gentlest thing in the world overcomes the hardest thing in the world. That which has no substance enters where there is no space.
Living in Harmony with the Tao in Political Life
When the Master governs, the people are hardly aware that he exists. Next best is a leader who is loved. Next, one who is feared. The worst is one who is despised. If you don’t trust the people, you make them untrustworthy. The Master doesn’t talk, he acts. When his work is done, the people say, “Amazing: we did it, all by ourselves!” If you want to be a great leader, you must learn to follow the Tao. Stop trying to control. Let go of fixed plans and concepts, and the world will govern itself.
Hua Hu Ching
Leadership without attachment to accomplishments or need for credit
The true master understands that enlightenment is not the end but the means. She doesn’t scheme to become a leader, but quietly shoulders whatever responsibilities fall to her. Unattached to her accomplishments, taking credit for nothing at all, she guides the whole world by guiding the individuals who come to her. She shares her divine energy with her students, encouraging them, creating trials to strengthen them, scolding them to awaken them, directing the streams of their lives toward the infinite ocean of the Tao… The highest truth cannot be put into words. Therefore the greatest teacher has nothing to say. He simply gives himself in service, and never worries.
Texts from Judaism
At Judgment Day everyone will have to give an account for every good thing which he [or she] might have enjoyed and did not enjoy.
Oral Torah (Mishna, Rabbi Hillel)
Responsibility to Self and Other
If I am not for myself, who then will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?
Torah (Prophet Micah)
What God Requires
And what GD requires of you: Only to do justice And to love goodness, And to walk modestly with your God.
Made in God's Image, To Dust we Return
And Gd created humankind in His image; male and female He created them.
For dust you are, and to dust you shall return.
Gd as relational: Abraham softens GD's heart
Now the LORD had said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?…”
God is about to destroy the entire city of Sodom due to the wickedness of its inhabitants.
…Abraham came forward and said…“What if there should be fifty innocent within the city; will You then wipe out the place and not forgive it for the sake of the innocent fifty who are in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing, to bring death upon the innocent as well as the guilty, so that innocent and guilty fare alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” And the LORD answered, “If I find within the city of Sodom fifty innocent ones, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.” Abraham spoke up, saying…“What if forty…What if thirty…What if twenty…What if ten should be found there?” And He answered, “I will not destroy, for the sake of the ten.”
Abraham Joshua Heschel
The Sabbath as Freedom
By desisting from all work on the seventh day, we testify that the world is not ours; that, not we, but God is the Lord and creator of the Universe…. If the Sabbath on the one hand emphasizes our servitude to God, it also stresses our freedom from servitude to human masters…. [For] slavery doesn’t only consist of doing forced labor for which one doesn’t get paid…. Have you ever stopped to think that you yourself can be your own cruelest taskmaster, that you are capable of driving yourself in a manner that no slavemaster ever drove his slaves? You’ve got to finish the job. You can’t stop. There are deadlines,…obligations,…commitments,…house cleaning,…shopping, the need to get ready for an evening out…and we think we are free! Even when contemporary man doesn’t actually go to his job, what does he do? He plays just as hard. He transfers the same tension…the same frenzy and the same pressure on his nervous system…from the business office to the ball field, the golf course, the highways of our land, to mowing the lawn, and fixing the house…. He may even be having a good time…but the mental and emotional and physical rest, the tranquility of mind and soul—this he doesn’t have.
Abraham Joshua Heschel
The Sanctification of Time
The higher goal of spiritual living is not to amass a wealth of information, but to face sacred moments…. Spiritual life begins to decay when we fail to sense the grandeur of what is eternal in time.
…Judaism is a religion of time aiming at the sanctification of time…. Judaism teaches us to be attached to holiness in time, to be attached to sacred events, to learn how to consecrate sanctuaries that emerge from the magnificent stream of a year…. Jewish ritual may be characterized as [an] architecture of time.
…One of the most distinguished words in the Bible is the word qadosh, holy; a word which more than any other is representative of the mystery and majesty of the divine. Now what was the first holy object in the history of the world? Was it a mountain? Was it an altar? It is, indeed, a unique occasion at which the distinguished word qadosh is used for the first time…at the end of the story of creation. How extremely significant is the fact that it is applied to time: “And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.” when we fail to sense the grandeur of what is eternal in time. …Judaism is a religion of time aiming at the sanctification of time….
Judaism teaches us to be attached to holiness in time, to be attached to sacred events, to learn how to consecrate sanctuaries that emerge from the magnificent stream of a year…. Jewish ritual may be characterized as [an] architecture of time. …One of the most distinguished words in the Bible is the word qadosh, holy; a word which more than any other is representative of the mystery and majesty of the divine. Now what was the first holy object in the history of the world? Was it a mountain? Was it an altar? It is, indeed, a unique occasion at which the distinguished word qadosh is used for the first time…at the end of the story of creation. How extremely significant is the fact that it is applied to time: “And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.”
…The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.
…To set apart one day a week for freedom, a day on which we would not use the instruments which have been so easily turned into weapons of destruction, a day for being with ourselves, a day of detachment from the vulgar, of independence of external obligations, a day on which we stop worshipping the idols of technical civilization, a day on which we use no money, a day of armistice in the economic struggle with our fellow men and the forces of nature—is there any institution that holds out a greater hope for man’s progress than the Sabbath? The solution of mankind’s most vexing problem will not be found in renouncing technical civilization, but in attaining some degree of independence of it.
In the year that King Uzziah died, I beheld my Lord seated on a high and lofty throne; and the skirts of His robe filled the Temple. Seraphs stood in attendance on Him. Each of them had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his legs, and with two he would fly. And one would call to the other, “Holy, holy, holy! The LORD of Hosts! His presence fills all the earth!” …I cried, “Woe is me; I am lost! For I am a man of unclean lips And I live among a people of unclean lips; Yet my own eyes have beheld the King LORD of Hosts.”
In the thirtieth year, on the fifth day of the fourth month, when I was in the community of exiles by the Chebar Canal, the heavens opened and I saw visions of God…. I looked, and lo, a stormy wind came sweeping out of the north—a huge cloud and flashing fire, surrounded by a radiance; and…in the center of the fire, a gleam as of amber. In the center of it were also the figures of four creatures. And this was their appearance: They had the figures of human beings. However, each had four faces, and each of them had four wings…. They had human hands below their wings…. Each one’s wings touched those of the other. They did not turn when they moved; each could move in the direction of any of its faces. Each of them had a human face [at the front]…the face of a lion on the right…the face of an ox on the left…and the face of an eagle [at the back]…. They went wherever the spirit impelled them to go…. …With them was something that looked like burning coals of fire…and lightning issued from the fire. …Above the heads of the creatures was a form: an expanse, with an awe-inspiring gleam as of crystal…. Above the expanse…was the semblance of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and on top, upon this semblance of a throne, there was the semblance of a human form.
Arthur Green on the Sabbath
Texts from Islam: God and I
Closer than Our Jugular Vein
Indeed we who have created humankind and fully know what their souls whisper to them, and we are closer to them than their jugular vein.
If Someone Walks Towards Me, I Run Toward Him
“I fulfill My servant’s expectation of Me, and I am with him when he remembers Me. If he remembers Me in his heart, I remember him in my heart; and if he remembers Me in public, I remember him before a public [far] better than that. And if he draws nearer to Me by a handsbreadth, I draw nearer to Him by an armslength; and if he draws nearer to Me by an armslength, I draw nearer to him by a fathom; and if he comes to Me walking, I come to him running.”
I Loved that I Be Known I was a hidden treasure, and I loved that I be known, so I created the world.
From, Abu-Yazid Al-Bistami (died ca. 874) An early Person Sufi in northwestern Iran
The Great Paradox
God can never be found by seeking, yet only seekers find Him.
I Am He
I sloughed off my self as a snake sloughs off its skin. Then I looked into myself and saw that I am He.
For thirty years God was my mirror, now I am my own mirror. What I was I no longer am, for “I” and “God” are a denial of God’s unity. Since I no longer am, God is his own mirror. He speaks with my tongue, and I have vanished. d. Self and God Forgetfulness of self is remembrance of God.
Self and God Forgetfulness of self is remembrance of God.
From Jelaluddin Rumi (1207-1273)
God Sees Beneath the Forms In the following story, the great prophet Moses has just scolded an ordinary person for addressing God in simple, human terms. Mortified, the person shrinks away. God then appears to Moses and says: You have separated Me from one of My own. Did you come as a Prophet to unite, or to sever? I have given each being a separate and unique way of seeing and knowing and saying that knowledge. What seems wrong to you is right for him. What is poison to one is honey to someone else. Purity and impurity, sloth and diligence in worship, these mean nothing to Me. I am apart from all that. Ways of worshipping are not to be ranked as better or worse than one another. Hindus do Hindu things. The Dravidian Muslims in India do what they do. It’s all praise, it’s all right. It’s not Me that’s glorified in acts of worship. It’s the worshippers! I don’t hear the words they say. I look inside at the humility. That broken-open lowliness is the Reality, not the language! Forget phraseology. I want burning, burning….
Texts from Islam: God and Us
From the Qur’an God Reveals Scripture and Sends Messengers and Prophets
We have revealed the Torah, in which there is guidance and light. By it the prophets who surrendered themselves judged the Jews…according to God’s Book which had been committed to their keeping and to which they themselves were witnesses. …After them We sent forth Jesus, the son of Mary, confirming the Torah already revealed, and gave him the Gospel, in which there is guidance and light, corroborating what was revealed before it in the Torah, a guide and an admonition to the righteous…. And to you [Muslims] We have revealed the Book with the truth. It confirms the Scriptures which came before it and stands as a guardian over them.
A Prophet for Each Nation
An apostle is sent to every nation. When their apostle comes, justice is done among them; they are not wronged. We raised an apostle in every nation, saying: “Serve [the One] God and keep away from false gods.” Islam’s Continuity with the Prophetic Traditions of Judaism and Christianity Say: “We believe in God and that which is revealed to us; in what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the tribes; to Moses and Jesus and the other prophets by their Lord. We make no distinction among any of them, and to Allah we have surrendered ourselves.”
God Recognizes the Righteous Irrespective of Sect There are among the People of the Book some upright persons who all night long recite the revelations of God and worship Him; who believe in God and the Last Day; who enjoin justice and forbid evil and vie with each other in good works. These are righteous people: whatever good they do, its reward shall not be denied them. God knows the righteous.
Texts from Islam: Women
From the Qur’an
The Qur’an improved the situation of women in the ancient Arabian world. Girl-child infanticide was outlawed, protections including divorce rights were sanctioned, and women were given inheritance rights for the first time. It would be wrong to say that Muslim feminists see the Qur’an as unproblematic. Nevertheless, many see it as an ally rather than an enemy. “Muslim thinkers, and especially feminists…have found [the Qur’an] often to be at odds with the frankly male chauvinist institutions and customs of Islamic societies since early times.” The Qur’an explicitly asserts that men and women are equal before God and enjoy the same religious duties and privileges, as per the first selection below. (Novak, Philip. The World's Wisdom)
For Muslim men and women-- For believing men and women, For devout men and women, For truthful men and women, For men and women who are Patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, For men and women who give In charity, for men and women who fast (and deny themselves), For men and women who engage much in Allah’s praise For them has Allah prepared Forgiveness and great Reward
Novak, Philip. The World's Wisdom (p. 303). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.