The Tao That Can Be Told

1.

The tao that can be told

is not the eternal Tao.

The name that can be named

is not the eternal Name…

-Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, translated by Stephen Mitchell

 

When Moses met God in the form of a burning bush, Moses asked God to tell him God’s name.

God declined to tell him.

When Moses received the ten commandments, he asked to see God’s face.

God declined to show him.

This didn’t stop people from assigning names to God, and it didn’t stop people from creating images of God, whether in sculptures, paintings, scriptures, or sermons.

There is good reason to be wary of anyone who is sure they know what God is like, since God (which is, in itself, a name humans have created) has declined to tell us.

#1 in the Tao Te Ching tells us that whatever name we have arrived at is not the real name. Whatever we can put into words falls short of what is. This is disturbing to many people. They either camp out in one of the poles of religious or empirical fundamentalism—where some expert will tell them how to experience the world, or they will continue to search for an answer which is unlikely to come through searching, or they will give a shrug and a whatever to the whole business.

Some will become mystics.

Being a mystic means turning down the volume of the chatter and turning down the lights of distraction. It means listening and noticing, and it means being comfortable in a world where less and less seems understandable. It means having more questions that answers.

Where is God, and what is God’s real name? The answer is always around the next bend, always beyond the next mountain range.

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