An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘Scripture study’

Expanding My Scriptural Canon

Six years ago, I finished reading the Book of Mormon for
maybe the twentieth time. Even though the BoM was the Gospel Doctrine course of
study for the coming year, I had no desire to start another reread. I wanted to
spend my scripture-study time reading the Jewish Study Bible. Yes, I could have
read the JSB at some other time of day, but there is never enough time—there will
never be enough time—to do everything I need and want to do.  Spending time on one activity means not doing
another.

By this time in my life, I felt I had pretty much mined the
wisdom of the Book of Mormon, but had a lot to learn about the Bible—particularly
the Old Testament. I finished the JSB, and moved on to the Catholic Study Bible
edition of the New Testament. Bible insights from scholars outside my own
religion opened my eyes to the many plausible ways to interpret these ancient
writings—as well as to the importance of understanding the historical context
in which various parts of the Bible were written.

I decided to include religious
thought from outside the Judeo/Christian tradition in my scripture study and
read the Hindu Bhagavad-Gita and Chinese
Tao te Ching. The wisdom from these
books seemed every bit as inspired as anything in the Bible and Mormon
scriptures. True, the Bhagavad-Gita
glorifies battle in one section, but much less so than the Bible and Book of
Mormon. Sharon Salzberg’s introduction to Buddhism, Loving –Kindness, introduced me to the peaceful acceptance of the
Buddhist tradition.

The messages of connectedness, right action, non-attachment,
and mindfulness from these volumes have given me insights into God, myself, and
others that I was not finding in the Book of Mormon. I’m truly grateful for the
Mormon teaching to spend time each day on scripture study—and I’m  also grateful to live at a time when the
wisdom and inspiration from people of various cultures and time periods is
available for my study.

 

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Seek Learning–Even from Gentiles

Over 35 years ago, I promised God I would read scriptures for 10 minutes every morning. Ten minutes isn’t a lot of time, but each year I completed the volume studied in Sunday School, Ensign articles that provided background for the Sunday School course of study, General Conferences addresses, and a few LDS commentaries. Even the Book of Mormon, my least favorite scripture, became interesting as I concentrated on the spiritual truths presented, rather than the historical narrative. Still, I was never able to see the literary richness which Richard Dilworth Rust finds in the Book of Mormon. And most of the chiasmus that John Welch identifies seems like a stretch. Nevertheless, I find many meaningful passages, particularly King Benjamin’s address and Ether 12.

As a devout Mormon, I obeyed the council to spend even more time reading the BoM when the church ramped up the emphasis a couple of decades ago. Rereading the BoM over and over took time from studying other scriptures and it eventually became tedious. To add depth to my study, I started looking up cross references in the footnotes. As I continued my study, I found nearly every doctrine in the BoM is also found in the Bible.

Half-a-dozen years ago, as I closed the book at the end of Moroni’s farewell, I knew I did not want to start with, “I, Nephi” the next morning. I wanted to read the Jewish Study Bible I’d just purchased. Rereading the BoM would take time I could devote to learning more about the Old Testament. And what was the point of starting through the BoM for the second time this year? Would I learn anything or was I just trying to access blessings Church leaders promised for obedience? Was BoM reading a talisman?  Open book, read daily, receive answers to prayer.

I spent my scripture study time for the next several months on the Jewish Study Bible which opened my eyes to Jewish scholarship and to the reasons Jews don’t accept the Christian interpretation of passages foreshadowing Jesus.

Since then, I’ve expanded my study time far beyond the LDS Standard Works. My all-time favorite is Reverence by Paul Woodruff. Another life-changing book for me is Sharon Salzberg’s Loving-Kindness, a simple introduction to principles of Buddhism which can be practiced by members of any faith. Mother Teresa’s Come Be My Light revealed how even the most dedicated Christian may harbor doubts that she is doing what God expects of her or if He even hears her cries for help. Rumi, the 13th century Sufi mystic, wrote many spiritually moving poems. The wisdom of Tao te Ching also resonates with my spirit. I especially like Stephen Mitchell’s poetic translation of this Chinese classic.

I recently finished Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. I don’t have to be Jewish to be uplifted by his insights about God and human nature. His comment, “One of the major inclinations in every human being is a desire to be deceived,” explains many of our contemporary problems. 

As Joseph Smith was aware, God has not limited inspiration and wisdom to members of any one denomination. Branching out to access spiritual insights from many of God’s chosen children has deepened my reverence for all of God’s creations. Thank you Jewish and Gentile authors!

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