I will be hearing Joan Borysenko speak Thursday evening. I hadn't read anything of hers, but a friend recommended her. Even better, the lecture is free. :)
I went out to her website and found some fabulous wisdom. I was especially moved by her analysis of the story of Job. Frankly, I always hated the story of Job. It struck me as encompassing many of the worst points of traditional religion: that if things are going well, look out, because it's all going to come tumbling down; that the reason for evil is "The devil did it/made me do it;" that the answer to tragedy is to shut up and take it, because God is everything and you are less than nothing.
Joan points out where some scholars suggest that the story was mistranslated. I had previously heard that 'satan' actually meant 'adversary' and probably originally was not seen as an opposing force of evil, but more like the archetype of the Trickster - that which doesn't let you use a cloak of righteousness to hide your true self. However, I had never heard that "as a verb it means to 'persecute by hindering free forward movement.' " My personal definition is that there is no such thing as "evil" if by "evil" you mean "some external force tempting people away from good." I have always said that the core ethical dichotomy is of love/courage and fear, not 'evil'. (I prefer the term 'courage' over 'love' because love has such baggage, but that's a subject for another essay!) But what an eloquent definition of why fear disempowers us so (and more specifically, why fighting our fear endangers us): it hinders our free forward movement. If we focus on our fear, we can't be free, because we're constantly on guard to try to avoid the bad feelings evoked by what we fear; we can't go forward, because we're too busy looking back to see if fear is chasing us; and we don't move (or change or grow), because we want to stay in a location that we perceive as defensible. Courage comes, not in fighting fear or avoiding fear or being immobilized by fear, but by allowing ourselves to feel the fear and yet still move forward freely; trying new activities and new ideas to see if they fit us; being open to seeing people in new ways and connecting with them in new ways; viewing the unknown future not as a perilous journey but as an adventure of spirit; and in doing so giving ourselves the opportunity to learn and grow.
Joan also presents an alternative translation of the ending of the story, traditionally worded as, "I had heard of thee by hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees thee,therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes." She presents scholarly support that it may be more accurately translated, "I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees thee; therefore I take back everything I said, comforted that I am dust." "Comforted that I am dust" sounds strange at first, but after reading her commentary and thinking on it, I think I'd interpret that as "comforted that the here-and-now 'me' is caught up in the drama of my experience, but the deeper 'me' is limitless light and knows that difficult times are not torture chambers but ropes courses, designed to learn more about ourselves."
Even though I believe that we are co-creators of our lives with the Divine-in-whatever-form-you-are-most-comfy-with :) I've always been uneasy with people who say we are 100% responsible for our own reality. I was gratified to see that not only does she agree with me, she helped give me an explanation why I feel that way: "While we certainly participate in creating the events of our lives, the idea that we are 100 percent responsible for creating our own reality is a psychologically and spiritually impoverished notion. In my experience, when patients with this belief are unable to cure themselves, they often feel like failures or undergo a painful crisis of faith. While such crises can be important invitations to deeper healing when there is time to pursue the ramifications, they can be a serious blow for people coping with life-threatening illnesses that may afford neither the time nor the energy to pick up the pieces of a shattered faith." She also points out that if we are all interconnected, as I believe and as modern physics indicates, that the "...notion that we are 100 percent responsible for creating our own reality [is] too simpleminded. Who is the 'I' separate from the 'we' who has the hubris to think that it acts in isolation?" And at least to me that makes sense: if we live in community, we create in community. (Hmm. Perhaps I need to update my co-creator theory to include being co-creators of reality with one another? Come to think of it, since I believe that the shortest direction to Deity is within human beings, then the obvious correlary is that being a co-creator of reality with Deity by definition is being a co-creator of reality with other people. I see another essay topic, or perhaps a workshop...)