William Blake’s “Ancient of Days” from Europe a Prophecy (1794).
“Yea, the darkness is no darkness with thee, but the night is as clear as the day : the darkness and light to thee are both alike.” Psalm 139:11
It begins with Philip K. Dick. My brother recommended The Man in the High Castle (1962) to me. Throughout the novel, the characters consult the ancient Chinese divination method, the I Ching, to discover they live in a false reality. Interested, I purchase a copy of the the respected Wilhelm/Baynes translation of the I Ching (1950). Carl Jung—yes, that Carl Jung—gives the introduction. Jung used it not for fortune-telling, but as a kind of literary Rorschach test. He felt the ahistorical and seemingly primordial language taps into the unconsciousness. My own I Ching experiences are for this end. I discover Jung’s hypothesis is true. After reading all the other commentaries and essays in the volume, Taoism intoxicates me. I quickly purchase copies of Alan Watts, the Tao te Ching and the Chuang-tzu. I read.
As I understand it, Taoism focuses on the Tao, the creative force of the universe. Famously, the Tao te Ching says, “The Tao that can be described is not the Tao.” Alan Watts points out that this is a mucky translation. “The Tao that is Tao-ed is not the Tao” is closer to the original Chinese. Extremely helpful, right? Any definition of the Tao will fall short of describing the Tao. However, early missionaries to China translated John’s λόγος as Tao. But, as far as I can tell, Tao is not God, at least not how Christians conceive of God. After all, the Tao undulates, but Christ is constant. Ultimately, though, both are unknowable.
When we confront something new—we frightened humans huddled around our sectarian fires, warmed against the freezing nothingness—our first inclination is making an other. We know those around us; we know what we believe. They are not with us; they do not believe. This accentuates the differences. Among those of us who do not have a fully developed humanity, this other is threatening. That I have used the I Ching makes several of you extremely nervous. They, after all, are not like us. Who knows what demons lie waiting in such mischief?
When something new confronts us— we frightened humans huddled around our sectarian fires, warmed against the freezing absurdity—our second inclination is to synthesize. This highlights the similarities. It is what the educated do. They take a thesis and an antithesis. They compare and contrast. Then, adapt a new paradigm. Many blend a little bit of Buddhism, a little bit of Taoism with a bit of Christianity until they make a mishmashed claptrap. This does no honor to Buddhism, Taoism or Christianity and overlooks serious differences between them. Thus, they force two paper triangles to fit a sphere. Yet, this pleases some to no end. I blink.
In the last six months, I left the parish in which I was confirmed and a very active member. I dropped out of singing in another choir. It has been very healing for me to go to an Episcopal Church up the street where nothing is expected of me after being burned (and burned out) for so long. I sit in the congregation. I sing in the choir usually. I sleep in sometimes. I travel around to other churches. I’ve picked up the practice of centering prayer that I let go of years ago. I have theological conversations without getting nauseous. In short, I’m saving my soul.
What amazes me in all my years—yes, years—of doubting God, the Church and myself is I never doubted these things two: the bread and wine are Christ’s actual body and blood; and Our Lady is God’s mother. It is fun to try to understand the last one! In days when despair devastated me, I’d still say Ave Maria to the woman whose son I had such trouble believing is God. I believe she prays for me, especially when I doubt her son.
Through this, I learned to let faith be faith, and doubt be doubt. Faith would surge and overwhelm me, before retreating into doubt. Then, doubt would rise from the back and wash over me before dissipating into faith. Doubt was a terror to me for the first three years. For the next three years, I tried holding doubt and faith together, making a synthesis of both. This just made me tired, angry. After all, I cannot comprehend what the mystics say should be self-evident. If all things are truly one, human hands cannot force them to become that.
Whenever a new way of seeing looks us in the eye—we frightened humans huddled around our sectarian fires, warmed against the freezing loneliness—our third inclination is let things remain as they are. I’m not frightened of Taoism. I don’t want to amalgamate Christianity and Taoism. I’m not interested in becoming a Taoist (for that matter, can one become a Taoist?) I’m happy to learn about a new system that is completely different from anything I’ve ever known. I’ll re-embrace the contemplative and apophatic practices within my own Christian tradition. I’ll let them remain just as they are. I’ll listen to both.
They say it is nearly impossible to hold two opposite ideas at once. But, this is the job of a writer. Indeed, I have done this my whole life: gay and christian; faith and doubt; fiction and non-fiction. I accept both as true, not bending them to fit a newer understanding, but holding both equally within my person. My soul is expansive, enlarged by suffering. So, I can look out with different sets of eyes. Some days I nearly think I can fit the whole world within me. Ideas swirl, but I think them. Faith and doubt ebb and flow, yet I remain. I remain.