Monday, April 25

The Tai Chi of Easter

As astute observers may have already noticed, I did not post on Holy Thursday or Good Friday.  That was at least a partially conscious decision.  Holy week is usually a whirlwind of activity and this year was even more so than usual.  In addition to the daily mass/service (including 2 shared services with the ECLA church we co-habitate with), I had the opportunity to listen to a poetry reading by Ernesto Cardenale and, separately, a lecture given by Noam Chomsky.  I mention these two events because they really highlight the current burgeoning issue which I am sitting with right now.

On the one hand, we have professor Chomsky filling a hall of over 2000, talking about the difficulties that the United States and her people face today and the causes which have precipitated these crises.  His extended lecture covered a lot of ground, establishing a compelling argument for his view of the collective problems facing us as citizens of the wealthiest nation on Earth.  In the Lutheran-led services this week, there was the familiar Protestant undertone that I was raised with, filled with comfortable anecdotes, rational discussions and logical constructs.  At the end of each, I walked away with the conceptions I walked in with affirmed, but neither overly perturbed nor moved.

In contrast, there was the poetry of padre Cardenale.  Tucked away in a small coffee shop, Cardenale read his poetry in his native Nicaraguan Spanish and the young translator to repeated the words about the unity of the mankind and the universe and the interplay of science and God put into metaphor and meter that subverts the mind and penetrates directly to the heart.  In the Catholic services, the use of symbolism and story thrust the message into a similar place, bypassing rational and logical processes and resonating on a level more profound.  At the end of each, my brain was satisfied but vaguely confused while the spirit and heart was moved and invigorated.  Cognitive recognition of what had happened only dawned later, in both cases with a smile of wonderment and realisation of the subtle changes taking place.

This all reminds me of two things I learned many years ago.  When I had progressed a while in my Tai Chi exercises, my sihing told me that the purpose of the form (the specific set of exercises, their order and designs) was to forget the form.  At a certain, undetermined point, one reaches a place where the mechanistic movements, breathing and all of that falls away.  You stop thinking about breathing and just breathe, you stop thinking about moving and just move. Further, books about the form are without any value.  If you understand the form, then you have no need for them and if you do not, you cannot learn them from a book.  They must be experienced.

Christ was this way in his teachings.  He was a learned teacher, well versed  in the law and scripture, but that didn't really matter.  He had progressed beyond them...penetrated beyond the words and rational, logical statements to the core of the matter which the law is only a pale shadow of.

When addressing the story of the Passion and the power of the Resurrection, one can wax poetic about the interplay and union of the temporal and the cosmic, covenants fulfilled and promises made, the circle of life and all sorts of related, valuable observations, but to discuss it in reasonable, logical terms can only convey (at best) the verisimilitude of the Divine's love.  These things will still reside only in the cognitive knowing of the mind, not in the experiential understanding of the heart.  It is only by transcending the rational mind and entering into that intimate space of the heart, where words and reason lose meaning, can we fully experience the Passion, the love of the Divine.  Once you've gotten there, you know and words are meaningless.  If you haven't, no words can describe the path, only point towards it.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Tim
    Am learning Tai Chi after an experience in Boston waiting for a shuttle bus every morning from the lodging where I was staying to the hospital where a family member was.
    Every morning, an elderly Chinese man emerged from the residence, and did Tai Chi on the sidewalk, oblivious to everyone else. Then he went back in. I came to look forward to watching and absorbing his peace and tranquility before heading to the hospital and a difficult day.