In response to our celebration of All Saint’s this weekend, with its paradoxical life themes of suffering and joy, darkness and light, death and new life, I offer you a piece I wrote for the Renovare’ Book Club on the creative energy of paradox.
A few weeks ago at the Apprentice Gathering in Wichita, I had the opportunity to lead two workshops on the themes of my recently published book, Renew Your Life: Discovering the Wellspring of God’s Energy. At the end of one of the conversations, a participant approached, a quizzical look on his face, and asked, “I can see how things like grace and possibility can be creative, life-giving energies. But, what about paradox? How is paradox a creative energy?”
My response is this: Paradox, by its very nature, is replete with energy. When two seemingly opposite forces compete for our attention and allegiance, our minds spark with energy—the energy of new possibilities, new ways of seeing the world, or new insights awaiting birth. As with any birth, the process can be painful, but the rush of mental and spiritual endorphins that accompanies the new idea that emerges makes you feel more alive.
Think about the paradoxes we live with each day:
We are in control and not in control at all.
We reject the power of sin and then fall under its power again.
We live in the midst of the struggle of love and hatred, light and darkness that we see in the world.
We live in the midst of the struggle of love and hatred, light and darkness within us.
We long to hope for the future even as we cling to the disappointments of our past.
And I recently tripped over this paradoxical aphorism from Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, “The greater light you have, the greater shadow you cast.”
Even reading the list, did you feel the conflicting energy? The struggle with paradox is replete with energy.
But, let’s go back to my earlier metaphor of childbirth. As we know, the process of childbirth is painful. New life emerges only through a period of struggle. I’m convinced that is why, in too many places in our lives and in too many faith communities, we avoid the struggle with the paradoxes of life, settling for a non-critical thinking certainty. It’s too painful to struggle with both/and so we default to either/or thinking.
We are told what to think about God and what to avoid thinking about. We are told who is in and who is out. In some cases, we are even told that if you are “good Christian” you should vote in this certain way on specific controversial issues. There is no grey—only black and white.
I guess, in some ways, it’s easier. But my fear is that we will never mature, never grow into the fullness of life that God desires, never grasp the abiding hope of the kingdom of God if we are unwilling to struggle with paradox.
Life is complex and hard. Fr. Richard Rohr, in his book Falling Upward, describes it this way, “Life, as the biblical tradition makes clear, is both loss and renewal, death and resurrection, chaos and healing at the same time; life seems to be a collision of opposites.”
What’s true of life in general is also true of the Christian faith. I love Parker Palmer’s insight from The Promise of Paradox. “The promise of paradox is the promise that apparent opposites—like order and disorder—can cohere in our lives, the promise that if we replace either-or with both-and, our lives will become larger and more filled with light. It is a promise at the heart of every wisdom tradition I know, not least the Christian faith. How else can I make sense of the statement, ‘If you seek your life, you will lose it, but if you lose your life, you will find it?’”
What a great hope—our lives will become larger and more filled with light. That is the creative energy of paradox.
It’s Monday. Find someone who stands on another side of an issue than you do and listen closely to their way of thinking. Let your mind and heart struggle with another way of thinking. Peace. Kai