The Way of Heaven
In the Name of Allah, the Most Kind, the Kindest
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
Imagine coming across a book on Eastern philosophy in a small-town library in the heartland of America. It’s significant because you were born and bred in a homogenous Christian community. Supposedly there were only three families who “voted blue no matter who” in the entire town. You inherited a dichotomous worldview, which was most inconvenient since you couldn’t help but notice the uncanny similarities between Saints and Misfits.
You even experienced kinship with some of the heterodox members of your community. Those damn liberals and the boy who shaved off his eyebrows, wore all black, and invited you to read Lost Souls by Poppy Z Brite, which you did. And because American culture is all-pervading, you’ve seen all sorts of things on television that you shouldn’t have. Things that don’t vibe with the values of your family. And yet you like it because it’s entertaining and you can’t unsee it. Perhaps this is why you were labeled the “black sheep.” It’s not that you want to stray from the flock, but you’re innately curious, and no shepherd knows how to carry you home (Luke 15:4-7).
That was my adolescent experience growing up in the Hoosier state. And it is why I was delighted to discover Taoism with its emphasis on balance, harmony, and Heaven’s Way. I love the complementary and benevolent nature of Yin and Yang. The imagery of the symbol blends beautifully into itself. There’s light in the darkness and darkness in light. Opposites attract because they are inseparable and need each other. Masculine and feminine qualities are swirling around and within all of us.
Did I bother to mention that I was a tomboy, who was teased and bullied for failing to wear make-up, carry a purse, and engage in games that are more suitable for girls (like dolls, playing house, and gossip)? I preferred my older brother’s toys and Ninja Turtles or playing Legos with Chester. But as I put away childish things (1 Corinthians 13:11), I fell in love with ideas, literature, and language. It struck me as queer in high school that everyone wanted to dress me up or give me a makeover, simply because I liked myself as-is with no frills, accessories, or attachments.
So the Tao Te Ching gave me a fresh perspective and new outlook on life as a young adult and continues to be a scripture I love and read with our children. When the girls were 12 and 9, we’d read a page from Stephen Mitchell’s new English version along with a page from Thomas Cleary’s The Essential Koran. Then we’d enjoy discussing it together and what it means to us! We were reading Jane Eyre at the same time, which was enriching. Our oldest daughter saw the characters of Mrs. Reed and Mr. Brocklehurst in Allah’s words: “Do you command people to be just when you forget yourselves even though you read the Book?”
Demi’s The Legend of Lao Tzu and the Tao Te Ching is one of my all-time favorite children’s books. I’ve probably reread it more times than our girls. Another intriguing book that my friend Chrissy gifted me is The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life. It has a chapter on the Tao Te Ching about influence, the power of seeming weakness, recognizing false distinctions, non-action (wu-wei), and Laozian leadership. This scripture, like India’s Bhagavad Gita, is a timeless classic.
In summary, Heaven’s Way is harmonious and natural. It is “quiet, invisible, and planned. Heaven’s net is wide, yet nothing slips through.”
With great affection,
PS. If you enjoyed this newsletter, be sure to write and share what classics transformed your life!!
PPS. Voracious readers and the scholastically inclined may also enjoy The Tao of Islam, Chinese Gleams of Sufi Light, and The Sage Learning of Liu Zhi: Islamic Thought in Confucian Terms. (Full disclosure, these books are on my wish list, but I haven’t read them yet.)