[This is an exploratory essay where I try to connect the dots between Chinese medicine and a new view of God as Energy-Matter. Your response is welcomed.]
In the fall, I became reacquainted with Tai Chi. The Great Outdoors in Titusville, where we spend time in our fifth wheel, was offering Tai Chi three days a week. It was a Yang form of Tai Chi which was adapted at the University of Oregon in order to give senior citizens greater balance thereby reducing the incidence of falling. Previously, I had taken Tai Chi from Harry Wong back in the late 80s.
We left The Great Outdoors in the middle of November in order to spend holiday time with our two sons in the North Georgia Mountains. The ongoing pain in Joan’s knee turned out to be a problem with an arthritic hip and she had hip replacement surgery at the end of January. This postponed our return to Florida.
The Institute for Continuing Learning (ICL) at Young Harris College was offering a Tai Chi course. I signed up and discovered that it was the Sun form of Tai Chi which was somewhat different from the Yang style I had been learning. After the ICL class, I continued to take Sun style from the same instructor for two months before returning to the Yang style in Florida in April.
Cutting across both styles was Qigong from which Tai Chi evolved. Both instructors were introducing their students to the study of Qigong. Qigong is ancient Chinese practice to promote the balance of yin and yang, health, and well-being:
If there is one concept that comes up in all forms of Chinese medicine it is that of Qi, or vital energy. Qi is the very backbone of the Chinese healing arts. It refers to the energy of the universe that is channeled from nature and runs through all of us. To have Qi is to be alive, while to have none is to be dead. (Perry, Paul; Liu, Hong (2008-12-05). The Healing Art of Qi Gong: Ancient Wisdom from a Modern Master. Hachette Book Group. Kindle Edition.)
As I continue my study and practice, I am beginning to feel and understand Qi—the vital life energy flowing through the cosmos and me. Manipulating and taking in Qi balances the major organs in the body and promotes health. Chinese medical practice is based on the five elements: water, wood (tree), fire, metal and earth.
By a wonderful bit of serendipity, I have also been trying to figure out the presence of the Creator in creation. Nietzsche proclaimed long ago that the God of Western philosophy was dead. Obviously, the theistic concept of God as a being who is up there and out there and who occasionally intervenes in human affairs no longer holds water in the face of modern science. Space travel and orbiting telescopes help us understand that the universe is made up of billions of galaxies each with billions of stars. This negates the cosmology which saw heaven as up there and out there. Darwin’s theory of natural selection debunked the concept of a theistic (philosophical) God with a master plan for Creation. Natural tendencies embedded in the matter of creation explains why a cardinal is a cardinal better than a plan in the mind of God.
The cosmos is flaring forth from the Living One. We can only use myth and poetry to describe such a profound reality. Who or what is God? I am coming to think of God as Energy, the Qi, the Word, the Tao which is flaring forth in creation. The spirit of God, the ruah, hovered over creation. The Holy Spirit is the driving Wind that energizes creation as it flares forth.
The serendipity—I stumbled upon the writings of Tony Equale (The Mystery of Matter: Appomattox, VA, 2010). Matter is energy and energy is matter. Existence trumps essence and being. Existence is presence to what is and what is is energy-matter. Symbolically we Christians have referred to the Energy of God as Love made real by the power of the Holy Spirit but we now know her as energy in matter—not disembodied Spirit. What is, is. Looks pretty much like Qi to me. The Energy of God in the Christian canon is the Love which impels the cosmos toward completion, toward Chardin’s Omega Point.
Working with healing ministry, I often ask myself how healing works. I am coming to think of prayer as positive vibrations for another which increases their Qi—the vital, divine-like energy-matter that flows freely throughout the cosmos bringing growth, health, healing and wholeness. String theory in physics speaks of vibrations. Dr. Hong Liu’s accounts of healing in his medical practice reads very much like accounts of healing in Christian testimonies. People who experience Christian healing ministry often feel the power of the prayer minister’s vibrating and/or warm hands. These are signs that Energy/Matter or Qi is present.
This non-theistic approach really gets God off the hook because in traditional theistic thought God heals one person but sometimes fails to come through for their friend—a capricious God indeed. Qi, it seems to me, operates on different levels. In imitation of St. Paul we can say that the cosmos and everything in it are groaning toward wholeness and well-being, shalom if you will. Focusing our Qi, our Divine Energy, Love, promotes healing in ourselves and in others.
Paul nailed it in his speech to the Athenians, “Rather it is God who gives to everyone life and breath and everything.’ And further on in the speech, ‘For ‘In God we live and move and have our being,’as even some of your poets have said, ‘For we too are God’s offspring.’”
Merton helps us connect the dots, “Life is this simple: we are living in a world that is absolutely transparent and the divine is shining through it all the time. This is not just a nice story or a fable, it is true.” The Divine Energy is shining through all the time. “Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.” The Scriptures helped Merton experience the Divine Energy:
By reading the scriptures I am so renewed that all nature seems renewed around me and with me. The sky seems to be a pure, a cooler blue, the trees a deeper green. The whole world is charged with the glory of God and I feel fire and music under my feet.
The Living One gives us a glimpse of the Cosmic Dance:
When we are alone on a starlit night, when by chance we see the migrating birds in autumn descending on a grove of junipers to rest and eat; when we see children in a moment when they are really children, when we know love in our own hearts; or when, like the Japanese poet, Basho, we hear an old frog land in a quiet pond with a solitary splash – at such times the awakening, the turning inside out of all values, the “newness,” the emptiness and the purity of vision that make themselves evident, all these provide a glimpse of the cosmic dance.
Merton sends Love’s Qi into the world:
New eyes awaken.
I send Love’s name into the world with wings
And songs grow up around me like a jungle.
Choirs of all creatures sing the tunes
Your Spirit played in Eden.
Zebras and antelopes and birds of paradise
Shine on the face of the abyss
And I am drunk with the great wilderness
Of the sixth day in Genesis.
Merton wrote an introduction to C. H. Wu’s The Golden Age of Zen (later incorporated in Merton’s Zen and the Birds of Appetite in the essay, “A Christian Looks at Zen.” Merton reports in the article that Wu began his Chinese translation of the Gospel of John’s “In the beginning was the Word” with “In the beginning was the Tao.” The word “Tao” admits of many levels of meaning. Wikipedia says:
Dao can be roughly thought of as the flow of the universe, or as some essence or pattern behind the natural world that keeps the universe balanced and ordered. It is related to the idea of Qi, the essential energy of action and existence. Dao is a non-dual concept – it is the greater whole from which all the individual elements of the universe derive.
Qi and Tao—words attempting to describe the living Energy of the universe. Love and karuna (compassion) represent the Qi Energy operative in the cosmos.
In his authoritative work, The Root of Chinese Qigong: Secrets for Health, Longevity, and Enlightenment (Wolfsboro, NH: YMAA Publication Center, Second Edition, 1997), Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming, connects Chinese practice and Christian practice:
Many people believe that Qigong is a product only of China, India, or other Oriental countries. As a matter of fact, internal energy cultivation has also been common in the Western world, usually within the context of religion. Many people have been able to find their internal foundation and strength through meditation or prayer in their church, temple, or mosque. Through their devotions and the practice of prayer, they are able to build up their concentration, confidence, and will, all of which are prerequisites to internal strength. The practice of such disciplines allows the energy of the body to become balanced, bringing health and strength to some, and even, in some cases, seemingly supernatural powers. Jesus is credited with many miracles, but he told his disciples “He that believeth in me, the works that I do, shall he also do, and greater works than these shall he do,” (John 14:12). All of the major Western religions have had branches or sects which used practices similar to Oriental Qigong disciplines. (5)
Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, “God’s Grandeur,” describes the God-Energy-Matter flowing through the cosmos:
THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil Crushed.
Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell:
the soil Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.