Minister’s Musings Among the Mountains – Word Meanings Matter

One of my favorite lines from the Chinese wisdom book The Tao te Ching (ca. 3rd century before common era) by Lao Tzu is “The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” (verse 64). It’s very familiar to many people here in the Western world. The words seem straightforward. The journey began with a first step. I don’t know about anyone else, but that suggests to me that whatever journey I am thinking about started some time ago “back when.”

Here’s an example. Westside’s journey began many years ago in 1959 when a group of people began to meet here in West Seattle. That was the starting point of a nearly 60-year trip into the present.

And, oh, what a trip it has been – many glorious moments, occasional serious disagreements, buildings rented, and homes purchased. The mission or brand of what Westside determined to be has evolved since those beginning steps on the path. A long and successful ministry by Rev. Peg Morgan, along with being honored by the UUA as a Breakthrough congregation some years ago have been important steps along the journey.

However, poetry can be complex in meaning and the Tao te Ching is very poetic. The phrase “the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step” isn’t very accurate in Taoist tradition. The late Ursula le Guin wrote an interpretation of that same line as this: “The ten-thousand-mile journey begins beneath your foot.” Stephen Mitchell’s translation/interpretation of the same verse and line is “The journey of a thousand miles starts from beneath your feet.” It’s very similar to the Le Guin translation though she uses “ten thousand” rather than “one thousand”. I have appreciated the Le Guin and Mitchell phrases because they strongly imply that a journey is always beginning anew from where we are rather than where we might have begun.

Here’s a spiritual practice I will explore this summer on my travels across country and back: can I awaken each day with the journey renewed, refreshed, anticipated? Can that journey be experienced as new rather than simply a continuation?

A journey, after all, is more than a beginning. How do you think Westside’s journey is going? Is it based more on that first step so long ago, or is it also the present moments here in the turmoil of 2018 nationally and worldwide? Can this journey of a religious community be measured by what we seek, see, hear, and do now rather than 60 years (or even 5 years) ago?

Finally, words are powerful and the meanings we give them still more so, especially in times like this. I am trying to become more mindful about the use of words and what consequences they bring to myself and others. This is a life-long practice for us all, I suspect.

The lesson for me is that I can always learn from my mistakes with every step I take in life. Words carry the seeds of hurt and healing. Sometimes they are the same and we have to sort them out.

Hope to see many of you on Sunday when we have the annual congregational meeting as well as our Sunday service.

Rev Alex

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