Lao Tzu (6th century BCE) first introduced me to the paradoxical dimension of reality. One stanza of his Tao Te Ching, #11, grabbed my attention before I really knew where it would lead me. Here is my favorite translation of that wisdom by Witter Bynner:
Thirty spokes are made one by holes in a hub,
By vacancies joining them for a wheel’s use;
The use of clay in moulding pitchers
Comes from the hollow of its absence;
Doors, windows, in a house,
Are used for their emptiness:
Thus we are helped by what is not
To use what is.
This ancient Chinese sage realized that there is a hidden dimension of life which is the essential dimension of life but is recognized only to those are attuned to the subterranean regions of the heart. This hidden dimension is described in the Christian tradition as the spiritual realm. But the Christian tradition, especially here in the West, has erred by not appreciating the true essence of spirituality as emptiness, and fashioned a spirituality which is merely a thing among other things, an object among other objects. Western thought has objectified the world and its spirituality has, therefore, been reduced to a rational enterprise that has no room…in most circles…for the wisdom of Lao Tzu. What has happened, therefore, is that spirituality has become a “graven image” which the Old Testament rather sternly prohibited. This subtle “idolatry” is particularly so with Protestantism which does not emphasize mysticism and meditation which places value on the quietness of the mind.
I ran across a beautiful poem today on Facebook which brought these thoughts to mind, a poem which was shared on the page of Parker J. Palmer, a noted member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quaker):
WHAT ELSE by Carolyn Locke
The way the trees empty themselves of leaves,
let drop their ponderous fruit,
the way the turtle abandons the sun-warmed log,
the way even the late-blooming aster
succumbs to the power of frost—
this is not a new story.
Still, on this morning, the hollowness
of the season startles, filling
the rooms of your house, filling the world
with impossible light, improbable hope.
And so, what else can you do
but let yourself be broken
and emptied? What else is there
but waiting in the autumn sun?