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Layers of Meaning


For those who have been with me for a while, you already know that I offer the library you call your Judeo-Christian Bible to contain layers of meaning from the most literal to the most mystical. And this is not new. So comfortable are our Jewish siblings with this paradigm that these layers of meaning have names.


P’shat (which can be translated to mean plain) is that layer of meaning which tends to be factual. One might expect to find history at this layer.


Remez (or, hint) is that layer of meaning which tends to press beyond the literal. One might expect to find allegory at this layer.


Drash (or, inquire) is that layer of meaning which tends to press further beyond the literal. One might expect to find morality at this layer.


And Sod (or, secret) is that layer of meaning which presses even further beyond the literal. One might expect to find all manner of mystical and esoteric inspiration, all manner of symbolic and cryptic guidance at this layer.


The challenge with this is that a passage may include one layer of wisdom, two or three layers of wisdom, or all four layers of wisdom! It’s possible for a single passage to detail a history, to offer an allegory, to imply a morality and to suggest a mystery!


And I say this is the challenge because when we try to get mystical guidance from a passage about – say – keeping food safe during ancient desert travel; or when we try to get hard facts from a passage about – say – glowing cities which descend from the skies, we end up getting nothing from either.


If we look through the wrong lens, we end up seeing nothing.


And so, for Unity to suggest that the Bible – its character and its places and its narratives and its situations – presents aspects of self (metaphysical is the term we use) for Unity to suggest the Bible as something of a psycho-spiritual handbook for living a life is not unique.


So deeply did Unity Co-founders Charles and Myrtle Fillmore give themselves to such a personal experience of scripture that they recorded an entire text called The Metaphysical Bible Dictionary. If you want to know what feet mean metaphysically, look up feet! If you want to know what valleys mean metaphysically, look up valleys! What does Judas mean metaphysically? Look up Judas! And beyond and beyond and beyond.


And let me suggest that the ultimate point of this isn’t so much that we are to memorize the meanings intuited by Charles and Myrtle Fillmore as it is that we are to give ourselves to such a personal experience of scripture. It’s not that they found the deeper meaning and that we are to mimic that. It’s that there is a deeper meaning and that we are to seek.


So, as we turn to the twelve disciples, the assumptions of a metaphysical approach are the same. Each of the disciples represents an aspect of self. Sure, they might have been flesh and blood people (and I believe they were), but that’s not the only layer of meaning we can draw from their presence in scripture.


For Fillmore, Peter represents our capacity of faith. John represents our capacity of love. Thomas – understanding, Philip – power and so forth. And each of these twelve capacities is intuited to have its center somewhere in the physical body. So, as we cultivate greater balance (my word) among each of these twelve capacities, we cultivate greater balance within the physical body.


And the opposite has been suggested as well. If you have issues with your gut, you might do some work with your capacities of wisdom or order. If you have issues with your head, you might do some work with your capacities of faith or understanding.


Now, this brings us to my two favorites: Bartholomew represents our capacity of imagination, intuited to have its center in the third eye area and Thaddeus represents our capacity of renunciation (or elimination/release), intuited to have its center in the lower bowel.


And I say these are my two favorites because so much of what we would change in our lives and in our world is hindered by an unwillingness to embrace a higher possibility or by an unwillingness to release a mediocre comfort. Said another way, so much of what we would change in our lives and in our world is hindered by short-sightedness or constipation.



What value has this power of renunciation to lend as we consider matters ecological? It’s an awesome question.


I reread chapter twelve (or renunciation) in The Twelve Powers of Man last evening. Now, if you choose to do such a study on your own, my counsel: allow the text some time. Don’t rush. Charles Fillmore is no Dan Brown and The Twelve Powers is no Da Vinci Code.

I reread chapter twelve and Fillmore seems to suggest (my words) that if, say, understanding and imagination would present the new idea, renunciation must uproot the old idea.


And this makes some sense to me. Fillmore seems to suggest that if you are seeking to express greater longevity, you may have to find a way to jettison that lingering belief that life ends at such-and-such an age. If you are seeking to express greater sufficiency, you may have to jettison that lingering belief that to live better than your parents is to betray your own family.


I once had a friend who could draw money to herself from time to time. And yet the real power demonstrated by this friend wasn’t her ability to draw money to herself from time to time, but her ability to sabotage that money seemingly without fail. Not only seemingly without fail, but seemingly without effort.


If she stumbled into an extra hundred bucks, it was as if something of an inner magic wand fell and within 24 hours, the transmission would blow, the eyeglasses would break, the tooth would ache, the basement would flood.


Now, this isn’t to say that we create every circumstance in our lives in something of an egoic, linear manner. I don’t believe that. Life is more complicated than that. Sure, it’s a tidy comforting idea but tidy comfort is seldom the friend of authentic understanding. So, this isn’t to say that we create every circumstance in our lives in something of an egoic, linear manner. It is to say, however, that there is something creative at the very core of us (I like to call it consciousness) which lends its hue, its color (shall we say) to the very fabric of our lives; and that if we want lasting change, we will have to work with that something creative at the very core of us. We will have to work with consciousness.


My friend could draw money to herself from time to time, yes. But there was something creative at the very core of her that simply would not tolerate anything beyond a certain level of sufficiency.


It speaks to the paradigm all too common among those who call upon people like me for prayer. It’s a paradigm that wants change without having to be changed. “Dear God, bring me some cash but don’t make me give up my addiction to struggle. Dear God, bring me some love but don’t make me give up my low self-esteem. Dear God, bring me some health, but don’t make me give up my red Pall Mall cigarettes.”


And this is why affirmations work. And this is why affirmations don’t work. Statements of truth change us if we allow them to change us. Otherwise, we are just “heaping up empty words,” as the author of the Gospel of Matthew cautions.


So, individually, the power of renunciation asks each of us, “If life (and we can insert the word God or universe or is-ness or so forth) if life knows what it’s doing, what must I renounce (eliminate/release) that life might work unencumbered through me?”


And collectively, the power of renunciation asks all of us, “If life knows what it’s doing, what must we renounce that life might work unencumbered through us?”


And because I’m speaking to a global audience about a global question, I’ll make some global suggestions. I might suggest that in our commitments to allowing life to work through us for a healthier planet, we will have to relinquish [separation] a consciousness that holds our choices as ours alone.


If a butterfly flaps its wings in Seattle, does a leaf really move in Sevilla? I don’t know. But what I do know is that even the simplest of our daily choices live beyond us as our children. In humanity’s great leaps, we hold the agricultural revolution of some 10,000 years past as a shining example! And maybe it was.


But in its long shadow we find a people who conveniently believe eggs come from pretty packages in pretty stores with pretty people instead of from sentient beings who may or may not know the warmth of light or the touch of grass based solely upon the vote we cast with our credit cards.


Now, my intention isn’t to suggest that vegetarianism makes a better people. But my intention is to suggest that responsibility makes a better people. Do I know enough to suggest that the hunter gatherer societies were somehow superior? Heavens no. But do I know enough to suggest that they were more aware of their role within an interdependent tapestry of life? You bet.


I’m suggesting that while that 50-cent savings might be about budgets, we do well to remember that it’s also about beings. I’m suggesting that while trash might go into a truck on Tuesday, we do well to remember that it also goes into a fill on Friday.

Said more clearly, we will have to relinquish a consciousness of separation.

I might suggest that in our commitments to allowing life to work through us for a healthier planet, we will have to relinquish [deflection] a consciousness that believes someone else will do it.


“Oh, but that’s not me!” I can hear it already. And maybe it’s not you. But it is, in many ways, us. One need only turn to social media to see this consciousness at work. “If only that people, that organization, that city, that governor, that senator, that government would get it together.” And there may be value in this. Many in our history have challenged the world out there. However, it seems that those who successfully challenged the world out there also helped the world right here. They had skin in the game.


Mother Theresa might have gone to Facebook to argue for compassion, but she still would have gone to Calcutta. MLK might have gone to Discord to argue for equality, but he still would have gone to Alabama. My challenge is that history might remember each of us the same way: those Unity in Lynnwood people might have gone to Instagram to argue for a pretty parking lot, but they still would have picked up litter. Said more clearly, we will have to relinquish a consciousness of deflection.


And I might suggest that in our commitments to allowing life to work through us for a healthier planet, we will have to relinquish [hopelessness] a consciousness that believes it’s too big, too much, too late.


And I suggest this not because it’s untrue but because it’s unhelpful. In the same way that a consciousness of deflection would have another do the work, a consciousness of hopelessness would have no one do the work.


Some of the great leaps of humankind have been born by courageous souls willing to look into the abyss of too big, too much, too late and to begin anyway.


I imagine women’s suffrage seemed too big, too much, too late but Susan B. Anthony began anyway.


I imagine Apartheid seemed too big, too much, too late but Nelson Mandela began anyway.


It was on this day in history (1912) that America’s first female pilot flew the English Channel. I’m quite sure that seemed too big, too much, too late but Harriet Quimby did it anyway.


It’s Goethe who’s usually credited with the quote, “Whatever you can do, begin it; boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” That’s why I say hope isn’t a conversation about what’s true. Hope is a conversation about what’s helpful. Said more clearly, we will have to relinquish a consciousness of hopelessness.


So, if we renounce a consciousness of separation, I arrive at an affirmation that we are one. And if we renounce a consciousness of deflection, I arrive at an affirmation that I am here. And if we renounce a consciousness of hopelessness, I arrive at an affirmation that we are enough.


We are one. I am here. we are enough.

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