The Dao of Jesus

The Dao of Jesus

October 24, 2012

We’re usually comfortable with God as creator. The connotations are orderly and scientific. An architect or engineer or uterus creates—aesthetically or intimately, even— but within established parameters. The Universe-Speaker would, of course, create his own parameters—and that’s discomforting—but there’s some comfort to be had in even the most individualized parameters implying a system.

God as artist, though, is decidedly more dicey. I’m much more comfortable at a cocktail party reporting that I create than admitting I’m an artist. Creators produce, craft, shape; creators get work done. Artists sulk, wallow, sigh; artists mostly stare.

Of course, my connotations are personal and cultural. They reflect a Western and American bias toward productivity and action—a protestant/Midwestern suspicion of emotion and the senses. But the crux tells me Western philosophy might (just might) cradle some limits to understanding God—and reminds me that Jesus wasn’t Western. “Christendom” may have been a description of Western culture, but geography (at least) says the Gospels are eastern philosophy.

The role (and esteem) of artists varies across time and culture, but casting God as an artist opens at least one common vein: mystery. And to this writer (who has yet to hear God hum to her eardrums), God as artist = God as writer. And writing: metaphor::bread: butter. If God is a creator, then, scripture is a text I analyze.

If God is an artist, scripture is a poem to experience. Within the ranks of the Modern Language Association, we speak of works of art in the present tense—“The Magician’s Nephew shows the beginning of Narnia”—as if they were living. As if they were living words. If God is an artist and scripture is a poem—an Eastern poem— Eastern philosophies might (just might) offer some lenses through which my Western-born, Western-trained mind could see scripture more fully. I’m hardly the first person to ask this question, but, What if learning to read the Dao De Jing could teach me to read the Bible?

Jesus said living water would flow through his followers—that God was the source of a water that would satisfy the deepest human thirst. My analytic brain understands this perfectly: God is necessary to life. But Daoism understands water in another way. Jay L. Garfield, an expert in Daoist texts says, “Water flows; water is not stable. Water makes its way into dark places…affords things, makes things possible for others.” When scripture is a text, I understand a concept. When scripture is a metaphor, I begin to understand how to live.

Jesus said, “I am the Way.” The word “dao” itself means “way.” My Western brain understands that a way is a path to a destination—the road to an end. Instead, the dao is a path, a way of doing something, a discourse, a discussion, a poem, a way of thinking and talking, the fundamental nature of reality, how the universe exists. Jesus becomes now a calculator, a conversation, a fight, an aroma, a worldview, quantum physics, food.

This makes my brain uncomfortable. But my life makes more sense.

Most of us are comfortable enough saying that God contains mystery. We use the word to mean “things we don’t understand or can’t articulate,” as in, “Iterated integers and directional derivatives are a mystery to me.” But an artist God would use metaphor. He would link disparate things. He would be incomprehensible without the senses. He would surprise. He would be incomplete without associates. He would, constantly, make things new.

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