The Spirit of Things (ABC Radio National) recently featured a show under the title: What to Say to Suffering and Death.
The following is from the first part of the show. It’s an excerpt on reading scripture, and the interviewee is Deborah Masel who was a Jewish spiritual teacher in Melbourne whose gifted interpretation of the Torah gained many accolades. She wrote In the Cleft of the Rock and Soul to Soul while dying of a brain tumour.
Here’s an excerpt on reading Scripture:
“…She'd [Debbie Masel] just published In the Cleft of the Rock, prose poems on the Five Books of Moses, and here she explained how they grew out of a mystical way of reading scripture:
Deborah Masel: Well, the mystics say there are really four ways of reading the Torah, which is called by the mystics Pardes, a Hebrew word that means 'orchard'. It is understood to be the mystic orchard, for ways of entering the Torah. The first Pardes is an acronym for the Hebrew word Peshat, which means a narrative reading of the text, just understanding the ritual meaning of what's happening in the text. The next is Remez, which means 'hint', that there's something in the text that is hinting towards something deeper.
The next level is the level that we call Derash, which is a homily and is often very frequently the level that the rabbi will access when he is giving...and I say 'he', but of course in the conservative and reformed congregations it could equally be she...is giving a sermon in the synagogue to give some kind of educational point, spiritual point that can guide people. But then there is this fourth level which is this level called Sod, which means 'secret' or 'mystery' and that's certainly the level that the mystics who coined this phrase, Pardes, were trying to activate…”
And the following is a quote from the second part of the interview. It featured Jesuit Priest Richard Leonard whose sister was left a quadriplegic after a terrible accident. Leonard remembers that the words of 'consolation' by the faithful were far from comforting. As a Catholic priest and a movie critic, Leonard plumbs the theological and movie archive to find truly meaningful responses to suffering and death that strengthen rather than diminish faith. This part of the show deeply moved me.
“…Richard Leonard: Christianity can't settle on pious statements and throwaway lines and quick getaways because people are in real pain. I've discovered lots of people have walked away from faith, all sorts of faith, because their respective religious collective did not have an adequate…”
You’ll find the podcast (downloadable) here.