Friday, August 22, 2014

Tales of Wonder, Houston Smith

Tales of Wonder is Huston Smith's autobiography, a short one.  I've known his name and read about him and read his writing for decades.  He is now in his 90s and, if Wikipedia can be trusted, still among us. He could be called Mr. Religion. He has written about the many world religions for decades and I probably used his first comprehensive book back in college.  That book omitted the Native American and Aboriginal and other "primative" religions, as he mentions in this book.  But he has rectified that omission the way he learned about all the other religions -- by deeply immersing himself in them.  He was born in China to Methodist missionary parents.  Religion is in his blood, maybe in his genes, although his parents were strictly Methodist he has immersed himself in all the other religions, living them for up to ten years -- but always remaining a Christian too. 

The autobiography touches on all those periods of learning but does not go into any of them deeply -- he doesn't need to because he wrote about them "from the inside out" and not with the condescending tone that most people write about religions other than their own.

I was especially moved toward the end of his book when he spoke of chosing to go into an assisted living facility because of crippling osteoporosis. His loving and deeply beloved wife Kendra understood his decision. He writes that his mother, in her 90s, was in such a home and, although nearly blind, went from room to room going in to talk to and cheer the other residents. Now he does the same in a similar situation. The concern for others that he learned as a child from his parents was so deep-seated that even their own handicaps doesn't stop them for being concerned about others -- to me that is a deeply Christian trait. I supposed it's part of other religions but the "do unto others..." as a  way of life is exemplified by both. 

Houston Smith has written:  Religion is the call to confront reality, to master the self.  He is speaking broadly and he has been living that life whether whirling with dervishes, taking LSD with Timothy Leary, meditating in a Japanese monastery, sweating in a lodge with Native Americans, walking the song lines with the Australian aborigines.  He has lead a life of seeking but never lost touch with his earliest childhood lessons.

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