Blessing, part 1

The Daoist text, Dao De Jing, dates back to about the 6th-century BCE. It consists of 81 short chapters, about 100 words each. There have been many translations into English, and I own about 17 of them. There is some scholarly dispute about the proper order of the chapters, but in the versions most common and longest known to English readers, here are the last lines of the last chapter -- the Dao De Jing's last word. First, from the version by Stephen Mitchell, which is by far the best known and best loved.
“The Tao nourishes by not forcing.
By not dominating, the Master leads.”
Those lines are translated by Wang Keping as:
“The Dao of Heaven benefits all things and causes no harm.
The Dao of the sage acts for others but never competes with them.”
Hua-Ching Ni renders it as:
“The subtle Way of the universe is beneficial, not harmful.
The integral nature of a person is to extend one’s virtue unconditionally and to contend with no one.”
William Scott Wilson gives:
“The Way of heaven clears the ground for cultivation and does not hinder.
The Way of the sage is to act but not contend.”
Ursula LeGuin’s version is:
“The Way of heaven profits without destroying.
Doing without outdoing is the Way of the wise.”
Philosopher Archie Bahm gives:
“Nature’s way is to produce good without evil.
The intelligent man’s way is to accept and follow Nature rather than to oppose Nature.”
But my favorite is an obscure, self-published version I happened to come across, produced in the 1980s by the late Unitarian Universalist minister Rev. Jacob Trapp, who died in 1992.
“The Way of the wise is not to rule but to guide.
The Tao of heaven is not to possess but to bless.”
That word “bless” – which I’ve found in no other translation – touched me. Suddenly, the directive felt vivid and clear. Not to rule but to guide. Not to possess, but to bless. It evokes an image of moving through the world, going about all one’s daily tasks, in a way that blesses whatever is contacted, whatever is acted upon. Jacob Trapp's rendering of these lines moves me in a way that “act without contending” or any of the other translations doesn’t.

How do you become a person whose actions bless? like a carpenter who blesses the wood just by the way she joins and nails it? like a gardener whose tilling, planting, weeding, and watering blesses soil and seed -- blesses the water sprinkled and the weed pulled? like a doctor who blesses every patient, and every nurse and medical technician and receptionist, who blesses every tongue depressor just by the firm yet gentle expertise with which he handles it? like a marathon runner whose every step blesses the road?

There’s a kind of blessing that isn’t consciously chosen. It just implicitly flows from one’s actions, an uncalculated beneficence, an un-self-conscious habit of compassion, a gracefulness of motion.

Then there’s a kind of blessing that is consciously chosen. Another Unitarian Universalist minister, Rev. Rebecca Parker, wrote “Choose to Bless the World”:
"Our gifts—whatever you discover them to be—
can be used to bless or curse the world.
The mind’s power,
The strength of the hands,
The reaches of the heart,
The gift of speaking, listening, imagining, seeing, waiting
Any of these can serve to feed the hungry,
Bind up wounds,
Welcome the stranger,
Praise what is sacred,
Do the work of justice
Or offer love.
Any of these can draw down the prison door,
Hoard bread,
Abandon the poor,
Obscure what is holy,
Comply with injustice
Or withhold love.
You must answer this question:
What will you do with your gifts?
Choose to bless the world.
The choice to bless the world is more than act of will,
A moving forward into the world
With the intention to do good.
It is an act of recognition,
A confession of surprise,
A grateful acknowledgment
That in the midst of a broken world
Unspeakable beauty, grace and mystery abide.
There is an embrace of kindness,
That encompasses all life,
Even yours.
And while there is injustice, anesthetization, or evil
There moves a holy disturbance,
A benevolent rage,
A revolutionary love
Protesting, urging insisting
That which is sacred will not be defiled.
Those who bless the world live their life
As a gesture of thanks
For this beauty
And this rage.
The choice to bless the world can take you into solitude
To search for the sources of power and grace;
Native wisdom, healing, and liberation.
More, the choice will draw you into community,
The endeavor shared,
The heritage passed on,
The companionship of struggle,
The importance of keeping faith,
The life of ritual and praise,
The comfort of human friendship,
The company of earth
The chorus of life welcoming you.
None of us alone can save the world.
Together—that is another possibility waiting.”
So choose, Rev. Parker urges, to bless the world. Over time, it may become a habit – an unselfconscious way of being. It begins with a conscious turning toward. Choose to bless the world.

There’s blessing, the noun, a thing that brings goodness, joy, or help to our lives. Food is a blessing. Waking up in the morning is a blessing. Air filling the lungs is a blessing. Friends are a blessing and, if you’re lucky, so is family. In this sense, the theme, blessing, is essentially the same as the theme gratitude. Reflecting on, noticing, attuning to and taking in the blessings in our lives is all about noticing things for which to be grateful -- and being grateful for them.

But blessing also has this other side. Besides the blessings you receive, there is the blessing that you do – that you give. Besides blessings, the nouns, there is blessing, the present participle of the verb, to bless – and it is that present participle verb that I’ve been talking about.

The noun and the verb make a feedback loop: When you pay attention to the blessings you receive, you are naturally primed to look for ways to be a blessing to others, ways to bless the world – which in turn helps keep you attentive to the blessings you receive. It is the feedback loop of – to use other words -- gratitude and generosity. Being grateful strengthens our generous impulses, and being generous strengthens our gratitude. With blessing, the same word names both sides of the loop.

You receive, and have received, gifts -- which you can use to enrich the lives of others, or not. You can choose to notice the blessings. You can choose to be a blessing. By yourself, you can bless the world a little bit. Together with others, more.

No comments:

Post a Comment