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Monday, August 29, 2005

my other religion

At Eddie's Edge of Faith blog I mentioned in comments that studying Taoism helped strengthen my faith in Christ.

It's been about ten years now. I was struggling with lots of questions about my faith, and an acquaintance thought Taoism might be a better fit for me than Christianity. I bought a copy of the Tao Te Ching and started reading.

I was hooked from the start.

The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the true name.

These opening lines state exactly the way I often feel trying to talk about God. To fully describe God is beyond what language can possibly convey.

Later I read this:

Thirty spokes share the wheel's hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore benefit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.

At the time I was enamored with reason, to the point of wanting to deny anything that could not be understood rationally. I wanted everything to be concrete and logical. I was beginning to see that Christianity failed that test.

And yet, here was this ancient Taoist sage making a reasonable case that what we can see and touch are not all that is important, even in the material world.

Still later I found this:

Look, it cannot be seen -- it is beyond form.
Listen, it cannot be heard -- it is beyond sound.
Grasp, it cannot be held -- it is intangible.
These three are indefinable;
Therefore they are joined in one.

I've always thought the Christian concept of the Trinity was strange. To me, it seems too complicated to be useful as a doctrine. What does it mean in practical terms?

And yet, here in a completely different religion was the idea of three in one. Beyond form, beyond sound, intangible -- like God.

Did this help me explain the Trinity? No, but by this point I was starting to realize it was okay to accept some things as mysteries. Reason is a good tool, but it can only go so far. A faith that is subdued by reason is a distorted faith.

The more I studied the Tao Te Ching, the more comfortable I felt with Christianity.

I have long since lost touch with the person who recommended Taoism to me, but I am forever grateful to him for helping me on my journey.

In addition to spiritual insights, I also found bits of practical wisdom scattered throughout the Tao Te Ching. I've gathered these lines from various places in the book:

With an open mind, you will be openhearted.

A tree that is unbending is easily broken.

He who knows he has enough is rich.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

When men lack a sense of awe, there will be disaster.

Despite the title of this post, I don't consider myself a "Taoist Christian". If anything, I'm a Christian who has been somewhat influenced by eastern thought, just as I have been influenced by western thought by being born in the United States.

Studying another religion did not weaken my faith; it strengthened my faith. Taoism did not give me answers to my questions; it helped me to embrace my questions. I had wanted to contain God, to build a nice little box for him to live in. What I found when I read the Tao Te Ching was a God who cannot be contained.


At 8/30/2005 8:33 AM, Anonymous cindy said...

thanks for sharing a bit of your faith struggle and what helped you through. after reading the few quotes you posted from the Tao Te Ching i can see why you were hooked and i think i will have to read more :)

At 8/30/2005 8:43 AM, Anonymous eddieO said...

wow!! thank you bruce. i really appreciate you taking the time to share a little more of your insight of tao and how it has helped you to see things differently. i will definetly have to look into this more.


At 8/30/2005 7:17 PM, Blogger Monk-in-Training said...

Amazingly enough Christianity was once a mystery religion from the East. I wonder what we have lost? ;)

At 8/31/2005 12:09 AM, Anonymous eddie said...

hey bruce

thanks for the great quotes. as you say, there is a lot of value we can gain from listening to others. it doesn't mean we have to give up Jesus ...


At 8/31/2005 5:36 AM, Blogger BruceD said...

It seems to me, that because of Christ, everything points to God!

On a similar note to your Tao experience, I've been enjoying the teachings of Wayne Dyer. Most people consider him a bit "new agey", but the wisdom he puts forth surely points to God. It's only when we're at peace with God (because of Christ) that we can see the rich value in good teaching...

At 9/01/2005 11:29 PM, Anonymous [rhymes with kerouac] said...

Really loved this post.


At 9/07/2005 8:06 PM, Blogger Mark Calhoun said...

Awesome Post!!!

I especially enjoyed your thoughts around the Trinity...
I have had a similar experience with Islam over the past months, including a few trips to a couple of Mosques. I am eagerly anticipating a Buddhism class next semester at seminary and a 12 day "Immersion" to China next summer as a part of my theological training.
All along the way it seems that my faith in God has been strengthened through each of my experiences and I can't even begin to anticipate what the future holds....


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