living tradition

 Contents: UU World Back Issue

The monk and the sage

by Elizabeth Napp

Having been raised in the immediate aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, I had the rare opportunity of experiencing a liberal Catholic Church. With long-haired priests and nuns who rarely wore the habit, centuries of prescribed worship changed overnight. Of course, back home my mother lamented the hypocrisy of a church that had insisted its practitioners learn the Mass in Latin only to eradicate such a stricture with the stroke of a pen, while my father remained steadfastly anticlerical but nonetheless willing to perpetuate our cultural heritage.

In the midst of all this dynamism, contradiction, and change, I stumbled upon a gem of a book in the library of a priest. It was written by the Catholic monk Thomas Merton and entitled The Way of Chuang Tzu. The book was a collection of stories about the Taoist sage Chuang Tzu and his philosophy on nearly everything from the holding of political office to the usefulness of seemingly useless things. I devoured it. By the time I finished it, I concluded that if a Catholic monk could find wisdom in a Taoist sage, then there was bound to be truth and wisdom in other philosophical and religious systems. A Universalist had been born.

Ultimately, no matter how liberal a fundamentally conservative religion becomes, it can never fully allow room and respect for opposing religious and secular perspectives. While I had enjoyed a momentary liberal oasis in an otherwise conservative tradition, my belief system had grown larger than creeds. Thanks to books like Merton's, I sought a house of worship with room to grow. Eventually I stumbled upon a Unitarian fellowship and discovered a far more compatible set of principles. Like the travel agent once told me, there are many paths to your destination. Unitarian Universalism respects the diversity of paths.

Has a book changed your life? Send no more than 300 words describing any book, ancient or modern, that is “a source of the living tradition” of your faith to “Bookshelf,” UU World, 25 Beacon St., Boston MA 02108. Please include a daytime phone number and your congregational affiliation. Submissions will be considered for a periodic new column.

 Contents: UU World Back Issue
: 59

Unitarian Universalist Association | 25 Beacon Street, Boston MA 02108 | 617-742-2100
Copyright © 2002-2004 Unitarian Universalist Association | Privacy Policy | Contact Us | Search Our Site | Site Map