Reading the Bible with the Eye of the Soul

Article excerpt

"With you leading, I entered inside myself, and with the eye of my soul, such as it was, I saw above that eye of my soul, above my mind, an unchangeable light."

--St. Augustine, Confessions 7:10

My great-uncle Barney was a big-time salesman for Boeing in the 1950s. Adults in our working-class families talked about him with the kind of reverence Willy Loman had for his brother, Ben, who went to Alaska with only "a smile and a shoeshine" and came back rich. When Uncle Barney talked, even nephews had to listen.

Uncle Barney, a Protestant, was interested in religion as well as airplanes and was puzzled why his teenage nephew was studying to become a priest. "Michael," he asked one night at a dinner table, "why do you depend on the pope to tell you what the Bible means? Why don't you just let God speak to you directly?"

"It's like this," I explained. "The pope and the church were given the keys to the kingdom of heaven by Jesus so there would be no confusion on what the Bible really means. If everybody could just say what something meant, there would no absolute truth. Two different things can't be true at the same time."

Apologetics is a nasty business. Uncle Barney held his ground. I held the church's and blinded him with polemical dust. Now I'm as old as he was then and read the Bible the way he did, listening for God's voice inside me, no in-betweeners.

Sorry, Uncle Barney. You deserved better.

Here is what I know now: There is more than one way to look at anything. And two things can be true at the same time. Look at the illustration of Rubin's vase. What do you see? A vase? Two faces? Which is real, which is true? We can read the Bible through the lens of doctrinal teaching and we can read the Bible through the eye of the soul, spiritually, and let it speak to us where we are.

We can read the passage, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:19) to support the authority of the hierarchy to interpret the Bible, to make dogma, to absolve sins. Many Catholics find spiritual assurance by reading the Bible through the lens of church teaching.

Other Catholics prefer to read the Bible spiritually and let God speak directly to them. We don't have to deny a traditional interpretation to read a passage another way. …