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News from the USCCA and the church in China

Book Circle Discussion: Daoism with Zhuangzi, Merton, and Bidlack

In April, the USCCA Book Circle discussed Bede Bidlack’s article, “Merton’s Way of Zhuangzi: A Critique.”

This article opened us to the world of Daoism through Merton’s translation of Zhuangzi. We explored some of the reasons why Asian wisdom became attractive to Americans during the 1960s and continues to do so today. We also pondered some of the challenges facing the Christian church as it interacts with not only Daoism's philosophical aspects, but also popular cultural practices associated with it. Like Merton, we appreciated the Daoist love for holistic perception and creative spontaneity.

We enjoyed reading aloud Merton’s rendition of "Cook Ding" (庖丁解牛), the story of an insightful conversation between a prince and his masterful butcher. We also sampled a few pieces of Merton’s artwork influenced by Chinese culture. It was delightful to discover the close relationship between the intellectual and the mystical, the intellectual and the practical, as they manifest in Catholicism and Chinese culture.

Rudimentary image of a butcher (Cook Ding) and a prince
Ancient illustration of Cook Ding

For those interested in dialoguing with Chinese spirituality, we recommend the readings below, as they arose in today’s discussion:

· Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu (NY: New Directions, 1997).

· Mary Yuen, ed., Liturgical Inculturation in China and Hong Kong (Hong Kong: Holy Spirit Study Center, 2003).

· Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Mariner Books, 2006, first published in 1974).

· Roger Lipsey, Angelic Mistakes: The Art of Thomas Merton (Vermont: Echo Point Books and Media, 2018).

Our next Book Circle discussion will be on May 11 at the same time (7 am PT / 8 am MT / 9 am CT / 10 am ET / 10 pm China Standard Time). We will be reading Donald P. St. John's article, “Ecological Wisdom in Merton’s Chuang Tzu.

Dr. St. John's article contains five meditations on the ecological crisis inspired by a reading of Merton’s book, The Way of Chuang Tzu. The themes of these meditations are:

  1. The problem of anthropocentrism

  2. Seeing the world through the eyes of other creatures

  3. The relationship between nature and culture

  4. The usefulness of the useless

  5. The problem of technology

For each of the five meditations, we encourage you to reflect on the following in preparation for the upcoming Book Circle discussion:

  1. How does Zhuangzi help you make sense of the nature of the ecological crisis?

  2. How might Zhuangzi help us think/live differently to alleviate the ecological crisis?

  3. Does Zhuangzi remind you of some aspect of Christian spirituality?

You may sign up for updates (including a link to the Zoom session) by filling out our Book Circle interest form.


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