Knowing others is intelligence;
Knowing yourself is true wisdom;
Mastering others is strength;
Mastering yourself is true power.
~Tao Te Ching
Someone stopped by this week. He’s navigating (“suffering” might be a better word to describe this passage) one of life’s tough turning points. As is often the case during such unrest, he was vacillating between unfounded hopefulness and unremitting despair. EITHER “once I round this corner, it’ll be smooth sailing and endless sunshine” OR “there can be no light at the end of this tunnel.” He hoped I could tell him what would happen next. Would that I could, but I can’t.
“The path into the light seems dark,” offers the Tai Te Ching. We can’t duck. There’s no way out or around. Only right through all the muck. Into the deep and often scary woods. Maybe it has something to do with needing to confront nothingness– or at least the worst within ourselves or in our world– on the way to discovering our true Self. Isn’t this the truth that all those childhood fairy tales– and their dark forests and dangerous, wild beasts– try to relate?
Knowing yourself is a tall order. It begins with finding some freedom from our insecurities, the conditioning of our pasts, our guilt trips, our compulsions to control others, and our need for approval. Dragging all that baggage around saps too much energy. And disconnects us somehow from our true selves and the positive energy that is also always present in the universe.
No matter how bad your past, how difficult your present, at least, it is completely yours! The musical opera Rent has a song, “Life Support:” …There’s only us, there’s only this; forget regret, or life is yours to miss. No other road, no other way. No day, but today.” Accepting, finding a power in your presence to your own moment, you just might find yourself in a strange new harmony. Serenity. In the flow.
Jean Paul Sartre pointed out, “Existence precedes essence.” In other words, we exist, whether or not we ever discover our true Self… our greater purpose, our deepest authenticity.
But something wonderful happens when you dare to risk your existence to discover your true essence. A whole new world opens up. Not necessarily a world free of suffering, but a world that is no longer defined exclusively by one’s suffering. This is my prayer for my friend…
Some might wonder that this e-pistle has such an Zen-existentialist cast. Because that’s the idiom that makes sense to the person who stopped by. In ministry, you must find, go to people where they are. As in life, we must find, go to ourselves.
For someone else, I could have used biblical images: truly finding oneself in losing oneself; dawn coming after the darkest part of the night; how we have been created from and must return to dust; the command to “know thyself.”
The various metaphors are not that important, except in as much as they are effective. Rather, what’s important is real, individual people. Each of us. And the passages we must make. …And that we try to be there for one another. And help each other through life’s shadowed valleys and steep mountains. A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.
See you in church,
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