The Tao of Liberal Thought

Fall                                        Waxing Harvest Moon

Art to me is an anecdote of the spirit, and the only means of making concrete the purpose of its varied quickness and stillness.
Mark Rothko

Another brush stroke about contemporary art and the future of liberal thought.  Given Mark Rothko as the exemplar of the link between liberal thought’s future and the radical rethinking of Western art he represents for me I will extend the metaphor one large leap further.  The future of liberal thought has a cathedral.  It is in Houston, Texas and the photo at right is of its exterior.  I’ve not visited it, but it is on my list and it stays in my imagination as a sacred place of the always contemporary spirit.

The interior is a quiet space, reserved as the website says, “as an intimate sanctuary available to people of every belief.”    Funded by Houston philanthropists its interior contains multiple canvases painted by Mark Rothko, hence its designation, the Rothko Chapel.  It is not its dedication to people of every belief that makes it a cathedral to the future of liberal, rather it is Rothko’s commitment to seeking truth through a leveling of old forms and the bravery to rethink and rexperience something so fundamental as art.  This chapel gives form to a new way of finding the future, a way, a tao, that does not flinch at change, takes nothing for granted, perceives no one, no institution, no book as a final authority save the open and always unfolding book of our universe.

Imagine your inner cathedral lined with the somber, blue paintings.  Imagine a small black tiled floor and a simple leather cushion set on a metal plate.  Now go and sit upon the cushion, clear your mind and your heart and allow your Self to speak to you through the painting.  Whatever it says to you is the path you need to follow.

Here’s another way of thinking about this.  Each progenitor of a new faith tradition, from the Buddha to Lao Tse, Jesus to Mohammed, each had a liberal approach to the questions of human spiritual longing.  Each one.  They were in their historical moment, raised in a particular faith tradition, taught its comprehensiveness, its completeness, its sufficiency.  They each went deep into their faith tradition and found it wanting.  They did not step back and say, no, these are thoughts that must not be; they did not say, no, our tradition will reveal itself to me if I only wait longer.  No.  They did not leave on their shoulders a cloak that no longer fit, a cloak that had, in fact, come to chafe.  Each of them, from Abraham to Zoroaster, stepped out from beneath the overhang of the past and dared commit themselves to an alternative, an uncertain future.

This is our responsibility, the great possibility that lies before as liberals approaching the holy wells of human understanding.  We, too, can throw off the cloak of former beliefs that has come to chafe and replace it with a walking staff for the way is long.  In the old Celtic Christian faith, the Christianity that preceded Rome in the British Isles, the monks had a form of spirituality called peregrenatio, literally wandering around.  The walking staff of personal responsibility will keep you company as you wander on the way, traveling from hut to hut, open to the hospitality available where ever you come to rest.  This is the future of liberal thought and it may be your future.

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