Soul Food

This week’s lectio divina comes from the Dao De Jing, a wisdom text of Daoism, an ancient tradition in China which focuses on living in harmony with the Way. The oldest known version was written down in the fourth century BCE. The words are attributed to Lao Zi, possibly a contemporary of Confucious, and a court philosopher. A text of images and ideas, the Daode Jing arises out of an oral tradition, with additions and alterations occurring over several centuries. There are many translations available, this version is by Ursula K. Le Guin,

She calls the text refreshing to the soul, a drink of pure water from a deep spring.

Remember to find a quiet place to read the text aloud, slowly and attentively.  Take time to reflect on the words that resonate, consider writing your response in a journal to help deepen your understanding.

Chapter 2 of the Daode Jing:  Soul Food

Everybody on earth knowing
that beauty is beautiful
makes ugliness.

Everybody knowing
that goodness is good
makes wickedness.

For being and non-being
arise together;
hard and easy
complete each other;
long and short
shape each other;
high and low
depend on each other;
note and voice
make the music together;
before and after
follow each other.

That’s why the wise soul
does without doing
teaches without talking.

The things of this world
exist, they are;
you can’t refuse them.

To bear and not to own;
to act and not lay claim;
to do the work and let it go;
for just letting it go
is what makes it stay.

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Spaciousness and Spirit

crane-bird-flying

As a society, we tend to be impressed by people who sleep little, as if it is a sign of accomplishment; not taking vacation is seen as a good work ethic, instead of a poor life choice. We need, I believe, to participate in what might be described as a certain vibrant emptiness, what the Japanese call ma. Ma is found in the silences between words, in the white space on a page, in the tacit understanding between two close friends. The Japanese school of Sumi painting says: “If you depict a bird, give it space to fly”.  How do we give ourselves that space to fly?  (from World Enough & Time by Christian McEwan.)

In the Tao Te Ching (translation by Ursula Le Guin), a book of wisdom first written down almost 2,500 years ago, chapter 11 discusses the importance of creating space for living:

Thirty spokes meet in the hub.
Where the wheel isn’t is where it is useful.

Hollowed out, clay makes a pot.
Where the pot’s not is where it is useful.

Cut doors and windows make a room.
where the room isn’t, there’s room for you.

So the profit in what is
is in the use of what isn’t.

Where the pot is not is where it is useful. I love this kind of backwards revelation, this reminder that it is the space itself that is useful. Where the room isn’t, there is room for you.

I believe the text is reminding us of the importance of emptiness. The absolute necessity for room to simply live, that spaciousness is a meaningful necessity to humanity. It is the unused space in a room that makes it habitable.This space might be physical but its effect is metaphysical,it allows our spirits to stretch and  unfurl, helps us to find calmness and focus.

In the Unitarian tradition, our chalice, while it can be filled with fire, with water, and with flowers, can also be empty.  Each service we sit together in silence, opening to the quiet silence.  It is these moments that free us to be ourselves. It is in the empty spaces that we can re-connect to the awesome, unnameable sense of the immensity of being.

How do you make space for your spirit to unfurl and fly?

 

excerpt from Finding Stillness, a reflection given at the UU Congregation of Durham on June 9, 2013.

Returning to the root

This Monday’s meditation is Ursula Le Guin’s translation of Chapter 16 from the Tao Te Ching.   Her interpretation of the Tao Te Ching’s ancient wisdom is the one I return to again and again.  This chapter fits the moodiness of November as the northern earth sinks homeward in anticipation of winter.  I like the notion that peace comes from taking the long view and in taking the long view, we can open our hearts.

Be completely empty.
Be perfectly serene.
The ten thousand things arise together;
in their arising is their return.
Now they flower,
and flowering
sink homeward,
returning to the root.

The return to the root
is peace.
Peace: to accept what must be,
to know what endures.
In that knowledge is wisdom.
Without it, ruin, disorder.

To know what endures
is to be openhearted,
magnanimous,
regal,
blessed,
following the Tao,
the way that endures forever.
The body comes to its ending,
but there is nothing to fear.

Where the pot’s not

Daoism, with its emphasis on following the Way, fully aware of the complexity of trying to live in harmony with natural forces, is my favourite of the ancient religious traditions.  The Tao Te Ching, in particular the version developed by Ursula Le Guin, my favourite author, is dear to my heart.  The wisdom of this religion is a source of great spiritual nourishment for me.

I am off to the Canadian Unitarian Council‘s Spiritual Leadership Symposium in Ottawa, so today I only have time to post a piece from the Tao Te Ching that speaks to the value of being empty.  This is the chapter that inspired me to consider the empty chalice;  emptiness is so often considered a negative, yet it is that empty space – the openness waiting to be filled – that is so essential to living.

Chapter 11    The uses of not

Thirty spokes
meet in the hub.
Where the wheel isn’t
is where it’s useful.

Hollowed out,
clay makes a pot.
Where the pot is not
is where it’s useful.

Cut doors and windows
to make a room.
Where the room isn’t
there’s room for you.

So the profit in what is
is in the use of what isn’t.