Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Whole Life

Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.  Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.  -- Psalm 85:10-11

At the beginning of the week, I was reading about Taoism.  I was fascinated to find the Eternal Tao described in language similar to how I think of God, and of Jesus.  Huston Smith writes about it in "The World's Religions" as follows:  "Though Tao is ultimately transcendent, it is also immanent.  ...for when Tao enters this second mode it 'assumes flesh' and informs all things."  (pg. 198)   Selflessness, inner peace, and self-knowledge are keys to actualizing Tao within.  "'Bide in silence, and the radiance of the spirit shall come in and make its home.'  ... And when the realization arrives, what then?  With it come truth, joy, and power." (pg. 203)  With words like "assumes flesh", "bide", "spirit", "truth", and "joy," is it any wonder that I thought of Jesus?

"Taoism's approach is ... to get the foundations of the self in tune with Tao and let behavior flow spontaneously.  Action follows being." (pg 208)  This too reminded me of the words of Jesus:  Seek first the kingdom of God, and everything else will follow.   Taoism is very metaphysical, spiritual, and inward-looking.  In contrast, China's other religion, Confucianism, is very practical, ethical, outward-looking.  It contains the nuts and bolts of living righteously with one's fellow man.  Hundreds of individual ethical sayings and anecdotes comprise Confucius' Analects.

Confucius placed his program for right living firmly in the world.  "The self is a center of relationships.  It is constructed through its intersections with others and is defined by the sum of its social roles." (pg 180)  Confucianism is structured around expanding concentric circles from the self.  These circles "include successively one's family, one's face-to-face community, one's nation, and finally all humanity." (pg 182).  It was not about self-sufficiency, but inter-dependency.

In China, people follow both Taoism and Confucianism.  These two ways complement each other.  They are like yin and yang, opposites that, though in tension with each another, are not opposed to each other.  They balance one other.  As Huston Smith describes, "Each [half of the yin-yang symbol] invades the others' hemisphere and takes up its abode in the deepest recess of its partner's domain.  And in the end both find themselves resolved by the circle that surrounds them, the Tao in its eternal wholeness." (pg 208)

Both of these ways -- the inward, spiritual path, and the outward, ethical path -- are combined in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic faiths.  The two greatest commandments -- to love God with all our being, and to love our neighbor as ourselves  -- comprise the spiritual and ethical backbone of all three of these faiths.

To me, the cross of Christ also perfectly symbolizes these two ways.   The vertical stem of the cross, planted in the ground, reminds me of my connection to God.  The horizontal stem of the cross, reminds me of the arms of Jesus, or my own arms, embracing the world around me, embracing my neighbor.  The cross is not the cross without both pieces morticed together.
The words in Psalm 85, above, also perfectly capture this unionThese ingredients are essential for living a whole life.

But what does it really mean to live a "whole" life?   As the yin-yang symbol and the cross of Christ illustrate, it means that we live a connected life.  Staying connected to God and neighbor is key.

What keeps me connected to my neighbor who is so different from me?

Love.  Plain and simple.

I know this because whenever I do that which is not loving, or whenever someone does something that is not loving towards me, I feel a disconnect, a distance, a break, to greater or lesser degree, between myself and that person.

Staying connected requires both spiritual discipline and communal discipline.  I can only learn in part by observing, reading, sharing, and listening to, all that God brings into my life.  I must also learn by doing, by living in community with others, and by embracing the comforts as well as the challenges of that.  And, unfortunately, that means that I will make mistakes along the way.  This way of life requires an open mind and an open heart, because I must be able to acknowledge my transgressions.  I must also be able to forgive the transgressions of others, and repair the breach, if possible.  It requires a complete commitment of body and soul.

The result is a strange dichotomous life of great joy and pain, depending on whether I am feeling connected or feeling disconnected from my neighbor or from God.

It is, however, a whole, and fully lived life.

Dear God, thank you for loving me so steadfastly, and for patiently teaching me every step of the way what it is I need to know and do.  Love always, Pam

Footnote:  The yin-yang symbol is from Google Images:; and the cross is from Google Images:

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