Thursday, October 28, 2010

Night and Day

Uphold me, O Lord, according to your promise, and I shall live;
and do not confound me in my expectations.
Benedictine profession formula (Psalm 119:116)

Paradox, according to Macmillan Dictionary, is "a person, thing, or situation that is strange because they have features or qualities that do not normally exist together."

I am always fascinated whenever the sun shares the sky with the moon in the full light of midday. The above picture was taken shortly before the time of this posting. I love it: a true paradox, in my mind.

Of course, as rational human beings, we tend to abhor paradox. We want answers (and we want them now!). We prefer either/or thinking to a both/and mentality. To be sure, this is a dualistic world. We dislike the tension of holding two apparent opposites together, so we deconstruct one and build the other up. We do it all the time.

Genuine Christianity is paradox at its peak. A Savior who is both fully divine and fully human. Life from death. Strength in weakness. And the biggest of them all, the Holy Trinity--one God in three persons, co-equal, co-eternal, and co-substantial. It gives the dualistic mind a migraine.

The sad thing is that Christianity is often reduced to dualistic thinking as well. We must get over that to be truly free. First and foremost, God is mystery, beyond all imagining. Our rational faith should lead us closer to the mystery of God and one another. Faithless rationality or irrational faith drive us apart--from God, ourselves, and one another.

Richard Rohr takes up precisely this issue in his recent book The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See. I don't necessarily agree with everything he says in the book, but he has some awfully important points to make about the forgotten richness of paradox in the Christian tradition. In the end, it is simply one of the best books I've ever read, and has had quite an impact on me (how's that for non-dualistic thinking?).

Anyway, I can state the matter no better than Rohr does:
Because paradox undermines dualistic thinking at its very root, the dualistic mind immediately attacks paradox as weak thinking or confusion, separate from hard logic. The history of spirituality tells us that we must learn to accept paradoxes, or we will never love anything correctly. Each one of us must learn to live with paradox, or we cannot live peacefully or happily even a single day of our lives. In fact, we must even learn to love paradox, or we will never be wise, forgiving, or possessing the patience of good relationships.

The whole picture is always both the darkness, the light, and the subtle shadings of light that make shape, form, color, and texture beautiful. You cannot see in total light or total darkness. You must have variances of light to see. The shadowlands are the only world we live in.

Reality is paradoxical. If we are honest, everything is a clash of contradictions, and there is nothing on this created earth that is not a mixture at the same time of good and bad, helpful and unhelpful, endearing and maddening, living and dying.
After all, it is always night somewhere.

And it is always day somewhere.

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