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Monday, November 17, 2014

On Holiness as Instinctive

To the unfallen soul, holiness is instinctive.  As Lao Tzu said, “It was when the Great Way declined that human kindness and morality arose.”  The Great Way declined at the Fall, but we can still see hints of this in very naturally good people who act kindly and with goodness merely by nature.

Holiness is the ground of our being as Christians.  “Were it not for their holiness, the spirits would soon wither away,” as Lao Tzu said.  Lao Tzu knew the identity of goodness and being.  Hell is witheredness.  Lao Tzu also uses images of a brook needed replenishing and species needing to be propogating – thus implying that holiness is as natural as natural processes, as indeed it is.  And he saw joy, the joy of the world, the joy of holiness.

And Lao Tzu even saw hints of Sehnsucht, of that ecstatic longing that joy instills in us.  Yet it is still hard to tell if it is Sehnsucht, or a more world-weary jadedness lying behind his words.  “What is most perfect seems to have something missing.”  With prayer, with the peace of hope, that "something missing" is experienced as the pangs of longing for the Beloved, as awe - but without the peace of hope, one can only become resigned to the sense of lack.

Did Lao Tzu experience that peace?  We cannot know.  A first reading of the Lao Tzu seemed to exude a jaded resignation.  A second reading indicated a joyful, quiet tranquility.  His words are a bit of an enigma.
 
In the Western tradition, the philosophers say that God is Pure Act; the theologians say that He is the Hound of Heaven.  Lao-Tzu said that “Tao never does; yet through it all things are done.”  These reveal complementary aspects of God, Who is both a burning act and yet, somehow, a quiet tranquility.  His Act, His Uncreated Energy, is shown to us through His Revelation.  But He held back His revelation for a time, and could only be known as the Natural Law or Way – the distant, passive, even awesome mystery “in which we live, and move, and have our being”.

I close these scattered thoughts with a Chinese poem, by Po Chu-i, one which seems to appropriately confound the puzzle further.

‘Those who speak know nothing,
Those who know are silent.’
These words, I am told,
Were spoken by Lao-Tzu.
If we are to believe that Lao-Tzu
   Was himself one who knew,
How comes it that he wrote a book

   Of five thousand words?

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