The other day, while I was salting my eggs at breakfast, I had an insight about one of Jesus’ teachings that had always eluded me. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is quoted as saying: “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.”
Even though in our day we take salt for granted, in ancient times it was precious for many reasons. It had purifying qualities, was frequently used in religious rituals and sacrifices, and it was used to preserve food, which in the days before refrigeration and canning could mean the difference between survival and starvation. Salt was so highly prized, in fact, that Roman soldiers were paid in part with salt, which is how we ended up with the word salary.
Jesus was speaking to uneducated Jewish peasants who struggled to survive under the brutality of Roman imperial rule. By saying, “You are the salt of the earth,” he was telling them they were precious, sacred, valuable beyond measure, which was probably not the message they got from the elite of their homeland and certainly not from their Roman occupiers.
Okay. That makes sense, but it’s the next part that’s puzzling. “But if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.”
That’s the part I never understood. How could salt ever lose its taste? Salt is a stable mineral, and it just doesn’t go bad. If you’re like me, you’ve had to toss out plenty of seasonings in your day, jars of herbs and powders that have been sitting in the spice rack for years, but never have I had to toss out salt because it wasn’t salty anymore.
As the salt tumbled from the salt grinder onto my eggs, though, it started to make sense.
We are of immeasurable worth. That’s our essence — in the way saltiness is the essence of salt — and we can never lose that. What we can lose, though, is our awareness of our essence. Because of the messages we get from our culture or our families or even our religion, we can begin to forget who and what we truly are, and when that happens we may begin to believe that all we’re good for is to be tossed out and trampled under foot.
My hunch about all this seemed to be confirmed when I checked out the Greek word that is translated “has lost its taste.” In other places it’s translated as “to be made a fool.” It seems the translators had a hard time seeing how salt could be made a fool, so they rendered it in the only way that made sense to them. But maybe Jesus really did mean to suggest that people, in spite of their immense worth, can be cast as fools by others and end up believing it about themselves. When that happens, he asks, who can restore them to their essence?
Beliefs are powerful things, though sometimes quite subtle, and they can either support us or hinder us in life. They shape our lives in more ways than we know, and oftentimes we aren’t even aware of their presence because they have been instilled in us at such an early age and operate at an unconscious level. That is why rational arguments often do nothing to change a person’s mind if those arguments oppose a belief that person holds.
Getting back to the salt, if we believe, at some level of our being, that all we’re good for is being trampled on by others, that is what we will unconsciously convey to others, and our belief will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Becoming aware of those limiting beliefs is a first step in becoming free of them. The obvious question is, how do we become aware of something we’re unconscious of? Well, it can happen in several ways.
Freud called dreams the “royal road to the unconscious”, and having worked with my own dreams and those of others for over 20 years I know how life-changing they can be. I’ll write more about that at a later date, but for now let me recommend a good book by Jungian analyst Robert Johnson in case you want to begin exploring your dreams. The book is called Inner Work. In it Johnson takes a step-by-step approach to working with dreams, presenting a process I have found to be very helpful.
Noticing Your Reactions
Becoming mindful of your reactions to your own thoughts and external events is another way to become conscious of internalized beliefs. Let me give you an example of what I mean.
When I was in seminary I was exposed for the first time to inclusive language for God. Masculine pronouns and imagery for God were either avoided entirely or balanced with feminine pronouns and imagery.
When I started seminary I didn’t think such things mattered; it seemed silly to me to make such a big deal about God’s gender. But the more I was exposed to inclusive language my first year, the more I started to notice how uncomfortable it made me feel, and my discomfort forced me to examine what was at the root of it. Why should feminine imagery for God trouble me so much?
When I realized the reason, it shocked me. Deep down I actually believed that the feminine was inferior to the masculine, therefore it was blasphemous to attribute it to God. It was painful to see how I had internalized the sexism of my culture and my religion, but becoming conscious of that belief was the first step in transforming it.
Sometimes, intentional journaling can open our awareness to beliefs that we hold. When artist and creativity coach Julia Cameron is working with people, she has them journal their response to this question: “The reason I can’t be a brilliant, prolific and creative artist is because…” You could rephrase the exercise to explore any goal you hold and why you think it might be out of reach. Try it out, and see what hidden beliefs you uncover.
These are just a few examples of how we can become more aware of limiting beliefs, which is the first step in moving beyond them. In other words, it’s a first step in reclaiming our saltiness.
Maybe you have a story of your own of how you became aware of a belief that you didn’t even know you had. If so, I’d love to hear about it.
Mary Elizabeth says
“You are the salt of the earth,” he was telling them they were precious, sacred, valuable beyond measure ”
You won’t believe it but I was praying with this very quote this morning!
Thank you, Patricia, for this enlightened reflection.
I remember a time when I couldn’t imagine myself leaving a particular
profession for another one that seemed out of bounds for me. Soon,
I was invited to become a staff member of a national organization that I loved.
It wasn’t long before my understanding of my true self revealed a capable leader.
Now, due to some obstacles along the path, I am facing the challenge of belief
in that essence again. This time, though, I have the experience of the past to
remind me that I need more time in solitude and silence to let the essence reveal itself.
Patricia Pearce says
Mary Elizabeth, thanks for sharing this. It sounds as though your lived experience, when you took on that leadership position, forced you to re-evaluate your gifts and expand your understanding of your capabilities. I completely understand how, in the absence of those external circumstances that validate your gifts, it’s easy to start questioning them. How wise of you to know that your true essence can be encountered in silence and solitude, when all beliefs can ultimately fall away and reveal our pure, timeless, limitless being.