31% of Americans believe that scripture should be interpreted literally; that’s more than one in four. Drop below the Mason-Dixon line and that number spikes.
People often resist interpretations of the Bible that are not literal. They resist symbolic interpretations of the Bible because they think symbolism is a lie. If the meaning is symbolic, then it didn’t actually happen, which, in their mind, means it isn’t actually true.
When we turn away from the symbolic dimension of scripture we turn away from the invitation to follow the Buddha or Jesus. We fail to see their life as a symbol for our life. As I wrote in my book Finding God in the Body, “At the heart of every myth is a central figure—a hero that invites us to participate in our journey. Initially, our participation is subliminal and vicarious. We get caught up in their trials and tribulations, but eventually realize we are caught up in their journey because their journey is a metaphor for our journey. Their stories are presented to us as our way, our truth, and our life. When we realize their path to freedom is our path to freedom, our vicarious identification with their journey dissolves into the immediacy of our own adventure.”
Symbolism isn’t fiction. It is eternal truth—truth that transcends time and place. A metaphorical reading of the Bible suggests that what was true for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus is equally true for us; that their True Self is our True Self. It liberates the text from the shackles of history, disclosing its inmost meaning which is within us, not the book. I will close with another excerpt from Finding God in the Body:
“The sacred myths handed down to us from our ancestors are still loaded with meaning because the meaning is within us. Myths are vessels filled by the sacred contents of their readers. They represent a multidimensional, transgenerational dialogue between humankind and the Beyond...
“Myth is a dialogue between the conscious mind and the body. It is our responsibility to continue the dialogue. The initial remarks uttered millennia ago and recorded in scripture are just that, the initial remarks. They beg our ongoing interpretation, just as they will call for the next generation’s interpretation.”You may also like this article: Following the Myth Within: A Contemplative Reading of Sacred Texts