May 2022

The Tao

There is a saying of the Tao that has captured my imagination. Taoism is a system of oriental philosophy that dates from the sixth century B.C.  It is contained in a book of eighty-one sayings –roughly 5,000 words which have influenced Chinese thought and culture for centuries.  It’s author, an older contemporary of Confucius, writes:

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.

Therefore profit comes from what is there;

Usefulness from what is not there.

Time and space are limits to us all.  The person who spends his time reading super market tabloids has no time to read the classics.  Great art and music can be crowded out of our lives by fads and novelties of little or no lasting value.  Self-centered personalities can become so filled with their own importance that they have no room for friendships or community service.  Therefore our lives must be emptied before they can be fulfilled. The image of life as an earthen vessel is not new to Christian thinkers.  Saint Paul uses the image to explain to the Christians in Corinth how God is able to use us to carry the treasure of his love.  But before a vessel can be filled with love and peace; it must be emptied of anger and anxiety.  The emptying process is always painful.  Often, it seems, we prefer sour grapes to no grapes at all.  Because letting go is so difficult.  Even our anger is better than the feeling of emptiness.  So it is we must die to self that we might rise with Christ.  For it is in this dying and rising that we find the space within us that makes us useful.   


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