Although much of what I write about on these pages represents my values, even my spiritual values, I seldom talk about religious values per se , not because I don't value them, but, rather because I value them too highly.
Though ex-students and readers of this blog could probably sense some of my religious values from my discussions of literature, as a teacher I always considered it inappropriate to discuss my religious values with students. My job was to teach them how to think and make their own decisions, not to foist my personal values on them. (Of course, someone could have argued that I valued "thinking for yourself" above all; so, perhaps I really was doing nothing but teaching values.)
That said, after recently tackling the "big four" of modern poetry, I'm taking a short break from poetry and reading some religious works that probably reveal my personal values more than anything I've ever written about here, even the religious-quiz meme I shared a year or so ago. Perhaps, though, such personal revelations will help to put my discussion of poetry into a better perspective, because all reading of poetry seems inevitably to be filtered through our own personal values. In that light, you can take this discussion as a disclaimer that will help to explain why, say, I prefer Walt Whitman to Allen Ginsberg or Thomas Hardy to Ezra Pound.
The publication of Elaine Pagels' Beyond Belief, inspired me to re-read The Gospels of Thomas, a work I had initially been impressed with when I read it nearly ten years ago but which has slowly faded from memory. Furthermore, when I originally read the Gospels of Thomas it was buried among various religious writings from Nag Hammadi, Gnostic works I often found bizarre or merely boring.
Before starting Pagels' Beyond Belief, I read The Gospel of Thomas translated and annotated by Steven Davies. I must admit, though, that if had done my internet homework before I bought Davies' work, I might have settled for reading the "Gospel of Thomas Commentary" because I find the three different translations along with various interpretations quite helpful in forming my own interpretation. In addition the exhaustive "The Gospel of Thomas Homepage." makes it easy to thoroughly research The Gospel of Thomas for those so inclined.
There is, however, something to be said for a work that provides a consistent look at the Gospel of Thomas, because they are not easily comprehended. Though I'm not sure I always agree with Davies' conclusions, I appreciate his attempt to prove that:
The Gospel of Thomas really is, I believe, the clearest guide we have to the vision of the world's supreme mystical revolutionary, the teacher known as Jesus. To those who learn to unpack its sometimes cryptic sayings, the Gospel of Thomas offers a naked and dazzlingly subversive representation of Jesus' defining and most radical discovery: that the Living Kingdom of God burns in us and surrounds us in the glory at all moments, and the vast and passionate love-consciousness " what you might call "Kingdom-consciousness" " can help birth it into reality.
Davies' "linked reading of seven of the sayings" also provides the reader with an interesting way of seeing the work.
Though I started this essay by saying that I was taking break from poetry, some of the sayings remind me a lot of Walt Whitman:
77a Jesus said: I am the light above everything. I am everything. Everything came forth from me, and everything reached me. 77b Split wood, I am there. Lift up a rock, you will find me there.and
113 They asked him : When is the Kingdom coming? He replied: It is not coming in an easily observable manner. People will not be saying, "Look, it's over here" or "Look, it's over there." Rather, the Kingdom of the Father is already spread out on the earth, and people aren't aware of it.
Perhaps my favorite saying, though, is the unique, as far as my limited knowledge of scripture goes, 97th saying:
97 Jesus said: The Kingdom of the Father is like a woman who was carrying a jar full of grain. As she walked along a handle of her jar broke off, but she didn't notice. When she arrived in her house, she put the jar down and found it empty.
I wonder how many people have gone through their lives unaware of the imminent "Kingdom of the Father" only to realize too late what joy they have missed in thier lives. Somehow, Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown comes to mind here.