Before I write, I try to have something worth saying. And before I decide whether something is worth saying, I try to spend some time reading up on what others have said about it. Sometimes I discover that someone smarter or wiser or better spoken has said it better, and I limit myself to pondering that and perhaps pointing others to it. Sometimes I encounter challenges, and I put the thing away, hoping to revisit it after further thought and investigation. Sometimes I find that I was just plain wrong, and I discard it with pleasure. Occasionally I’m reassured that what I thought I had to say is sound and worth adding to the conversation, and I’ll write it up.
And sometimes I’ll discover that the thing points to something much more profound, an idea that I shouldn’t even raise without a far deeper understanding of it. If I should ever raise it at all. These are the times at which the blog goes quiet, while I read and read and read.
I wanted to write more about God’s economy and the need to align ourselves with the grain of the universe. But at the same time I happened to read a small book by Toinette Lippe called Caught in the Act, a collection of essays about simple living. The book is a sort of sequel to her Nothing Left Over: A Plain and Simple Life, which I read next. Lippe’s thinking is heavily influenced by Zen Buddhism, but as I read I thought, wow, her descriptions of aligning one’s life with the Tao sure resonate with my own thinking about coming into alignment with the grain of the universe. And then I remembered: wasn’t the Tao a prominent theme in C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man? So I re-read that, and was reassured that the Tao is in fact God’s economy, and that I’m not the first to notice this.
Much has been written about the Tao, of course. Not so much from a Christian perspective, but some. Thomas Merton spent the final part of his life exploring the connections between the Tao and Christian mysticism, writing several helpful books. And there is a book I’m waiting on called Christ the Eternal Tao, by an Eastern Orthodox monk, which interprets the teachings of the Tao Te Ching in Christian form. (For a taste of this, see this lecture transcript.)
There’s a lot of mysticism to wade through, and I continue to hold that at arm’s length—not because I discount it, but because I am not yet equipped to grasp it at any level. Too much groundwork yet to be done. And since the groundwork is beneficial in itself, I’m happy to putter along at the lower levels, trusting that what I absorb will eventually open my eyes to see accurately what is and isn’t going on further up and further in.
Meanwhile, there is so much to be learned simply by studying the tension between the Taoist philosophers and Confucianism, a social system built on the foundation of the Tao. The philosophers say that by trying to systematize the Tao, by trying to turn it into a set of rules for living in harmony with the Tao, they produced the opposite effect. In T.S. Eliot’s words, the Confucianists tried “to escape / from the darkness outside and within / by dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.” I’ve know for a long time that this was the problem with systems. But the Taoist philosophers have much to say about why this happens, which makes me an eager audience for their teachings.
Anyway, that’s a taste of what I’ve been exploring during this period of radio silence.