Passages from the Tao Te Ching

XIV
What cannot be seen is called evanescent;
What cannot be heard is called rarefied;
What cannot be touched is called minute.
These cannot be fathomed
And so they are confused and looked upon as one.
Its* upper part is not dazzling;
Its lower part is not obscure.
Dimly visible, it cannot be named
And returns to that which is without substance.
This is called the shape that has no shape.
The image that is without substance.
This is called indistinct and shadowy.
Go up to it and you will not see its head;
Follow behind it and you will not see its rear.
Hold fast to the way of antiquity
In order to keep in control the realm of today.
The ability to know the beginning of antiquity
Is called the thread running through the way.

* I.e. the Tao or the Way

Continue reading “Passages from the Tao Te Ching”

March & April Reading

  1. Endpoint & Other Poems, John Updike**
  2. Neruda And Vallejo: Selected Poems, Pablo Neruda and César Vallejo, Ed. Robert Bly, Tr. Robert Bly, John Knoepfle, & James Wright****
  3. Spill Simmer Falter Wither, Sara Baume***
  4. Nine Horses: Poems, Billy Collins***
  5. Erratic Facts, Kay Ryan*****
  6. What Work Is: Poems, Philip Levine*****
  7. Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky*****
  8. Americans’ Favorite Poems, Ed. Robert Pinsky & Maggie Dietz****
  9. Selected Poems of Robert Frost, Robert Frost**
  10. Otherwise: New & Selected Poems, Jane Kenyon****
  11. Whereas: Poems, Layli Long Soldier***
  12. Free Range Kids, Lenore Skenazy***
  13. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, Jordan Peterson*****
  14. The Storyteller, Mario Vargas Llosa****
  15. The Loyalties of Robinson Jeffers, Radcliffe Squires****
  16. Training in Christianity & The Edifying Discourse which Accompanied It, Søren Kierkegaard****
  17. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, How We Can Learn to Fulfill Our Potential, Carol S. Dweck****
  18. Roan Stallion, Tamar, & Other Poems, Robinson Jeffers*****
  19. Civilization and Its Discontents, Sigmund Freud, Tr. James Strachey***
  20. Field Stones: Poems, Robert Kinsley***

Let the Atheists Themselves Choose a God

That a good man may have his back to the wall is no more than we knew already; but that God could have his back to the wall is a boast for all insurgents forever. Christianity is the only religion on earth that has felt that omnipotence made God incomplete. Christianity alone has felt that God, to be wholly God, must have been a rebel as well as a king. Alone of all creeds, Christianity has added courage to the virtues of the Creator. For the only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point – and does not break.  In this indeed I approach a matter more dark and awful than it is easy to discuss; and I apologize in advance if any of my phrases fall wrong or seem irreverent touching a matter which the greatest saints and thinkers have justly feared to approach. But in the terrific tale of the Passion there is a distinct emotional suggestion that the author of all things (in some unthinkable way) went not only through agony, but through doubt. It is written, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” No; but the Lord thy God may tempt Himself; and it seems as if this was what happened in Gethsemane. In a garden Satan tempted man: and in a garden God tempted God. He passed in some superhuman manner through our human horror of pessimism. When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven, it was not at the crucifixion, but at the cry from the cross: the cry which confessed that God was forsaken of God. And now let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. Nay (the matter grows too difficult for human speech), but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.”

–G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

The Perturbations of Love

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one…Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is hell.

–C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves

One Word of Truth Shall Outweigh the Whole World

We shall be told: what can literature possibly do against the ruthless onslaught of open violence? But let us not forget that violence does not live alone and is not capable of living alone: it is necessarily interwoven with falsehood. Between them lies the most intimate, the deepest of natural bonds. Violence finds its only refuge in falsehood, falsehood its only support in violence. Any man who has once acclaimed violence as his method must inexorably choose falsehood as his principle. At its birth violence acts openly and even with pride. But no sooner does it become strong, firmly established, than it senses the rarefaction of the air around it and it cannot continue to exist without descending into a fog of lies, clothing them in sweet talk. It does not always, not necessarily, openly throttle the throat, more often it demands from its subjects only an oath of allegiance to falsehood, only complicity in falsehood.

And the simple step of a simple courageous man is not to partake in falsehood, not to support false actions! Let that enter the world, let it even reign in the world – but not with my help. But writers and artists can achieve more: they can conquer falsehood! In the struggle with falsehood art always did win and it always does win! Openly, irrefutably for everyone! Falsehood can hold out against much in this world, but not against art.

And no sooner will falsehood be dispersed than the nakedness of violence will be revealed in all its ugliness – and violence, decrepit, will fall.

That is why, my friends, I believe that we are able to help the world in its white-hot hour. Not by making the excuse of possessing no weapons, and not by giving ourselves over to a frivolous life – but by going to war!

Proverbs about truth are well-loved in Russian. They give steady and sometimes striking expression to the not inconsiderable harsh national experience: one word of truth shall outweigh the whole world. 

And it is here, on an imaginary fantasy, a breach of the principle of the conservation of mass and energy, that I base both my own activity and my appeal to the writers of the whole world.

–Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, Written In Secret, Nobel Lecture, 1970

And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

Peter Paul Rubens, Cain Slaying Abel

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

–Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956

But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.

–Jesus, St. Matthew 15.18-19

So then, my brethren, live.

It is not only prayer that gives God glory but work. Smiting on an anvil, sawing a beam, whitewashing a wall, driving horses, sweeping, scouring, everything gives God some glory if being in his grace you do it as your duty. To go to communion worthily gives God great glory, but to take food in thankfulness and temperance gives him glory too. To lift up the hands in prayer gives God glory, but a man with a dung fork in his hand, a woman with a slop pail, give him glory too. He is so great that all things give him glory if you mean they should. So then, my brethren, live.

–Gerard Manley Hopkins