"Before you can search for truth, you must be interested in finding it." -Miroslav Volf

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Breath of Nature

I'm drinking my coffee, listening to the sound of the bridge traffic outside my window this morning. I'm surprised by the fact that I enjoy the sound. If it were simply engines and horns (and curses) that might be different, but given my distance--maybe a mile as the crow flies--from the source of the sound, it all blends together into a gentle roar that is actually rather calming.

It reminded me of a piece I read a few months ago by Chuang Tzu, a Taoist sage, which I share below. This is a translation by my "friend and teacher" Thomas Merton.

I love the ending and lack of resolution of this piece. Speaking about and naming God can at times be important and helpful: for clarity, understanding, direction. We need definitions...definitely. But there is a place for the mystery and indefinability of God too.

As church history has taught me, definitions can be limiting, stifling, excluding. But lack of definition and mystery seem to open up possibilities for where God can be experienced, maybe push us to seek God out more fervently rather than slide into complacency.

I read this and am reminded to not simply look up with eyes open, nor look down with eyes closed, but to look around...attentive, ready, eager to discover with all the senses the Unfathomable Other, who is not simply big and distant but small and near.


"The Breath of Nature"

When great Nature sighs, we hear the winds
Which, noiseless in themselves,
Awaken voices from other beings,
Blowing on them.
From every opening
Loud voices sound. Have you not heard
The rush of tones?

There stands the overhanging wood
On the steep mountain:
Old trees with holes and cracks
Like snouts, maws, and ears,
Like beam-sockets, like goblets,
Grooves in the wood, hollows full of water:
You hear mooing and roaring, whistling,
Shouts of command, grumblings,
Deep drones, sad flutes.
One call awakens another in dialogue.
Gentle winds sing timidly,
Strong ones blast on without restraint.
Then the wind dies down. The openings
Empty out their last sound.
Have you not observed how all then trembles and subsides?

Yu replied: I understand:
The music of earth sings through a thousand holes.
The music of man is made on flutes and instruments.
What makes the music of heaven?

Master Ki said:
Something is blowing on a thousand different holes.
Some power stands behind all this and makes the sound die down.
What is this power?


Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu (New York: New Directions Publishing, 2010), 38-39.

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