Monday, October 6, 2014

Embracing Paradox

"Great Mystery"
-Sunrise at the Desert Retreat House-

In Rome this week, Pope Francis is meeting with a group of bishops, theologians and church leaders to examine various religious teachings in order to discover if maybe new life might be able to be injected into stale doctrine.  

Some of the more conservative cardinals are angry and appalled at such a meeting, claiming that you can never change the doctrine of the church. One cardinal argued, "Church doctrine has been around for 2000 years; it has been passed down to us by the apostles and provides us with clear-cut unambiguous answers that can never be changed in any way." 

I couldn't possibly disagree more with the cardinal.

As I see it, the road to deeper truth and greater wisdom is never a one-way street paved with clear-cut, unambiguous and unchangeable answers about the nature of "God" or the meaning of life. "God" is a great mystery that cannot be contained in fixed religious doctrine, and the road to wisdom is always messy, ambiguous and paradoxical. 

When you embrace a paradox, you come face to face with seemingly opposing and contradictory points of view and discover that wisdom emerges by holding both sides together. Interestingly enough, Priest and author, Richard Rohr, suggests that, unless we are able to embrace paradox we will never be on an authentic spiritual path:

All true spirituality has the character of paradox to it,
precisely because it is always holding together the 'Whole' of reality.

I've been thinking about that cardinal in Rome who says that his religion offers unchangeable, one-way, clear-cut answers. At one point long ago I may have even somewhat agreed with him, but nowadays I am on a very different path. I have come to realize that most of the core direction of my spiritual journey is ambiguous and mostly paradoxical. For example:

I find myself when I lose myself- The more I am able to abandon a false sense of self importance, the more I become aware of my connection to the cosmos; and I find my true self - a relationship to everyone and everything. 

I am strong when I am weak - When I am able to embrace failure and recognize my own weakness and lack of self-sufficiency, I become vulnerable enough  to enter into deeper relationship,  and here I find strength.

I am full when I am empty - When my mind is uncluttered with pre-made answers there is room for truth to fill me. When I am so full of my own presence there is no room for a Holy Presence to abide with me. 

The path to light is usually walked in darkness - wisdom is only possible when there are way more answers than questions.  Anything I might ever say or think about "God" is certainly not who "God" is.  So, I set the compass of my life to walk in the direction of compassion, and while I'm never exactly sure where I am going, I am never alone - I am surrounded by my fellow travelers on the journey, guided by an ever-abiding Holy Presence. 

The spiritual journey is messy, so many crooked lines, so ambiguous, always paradoxical and yet so wonderfully mysterious - filled with surprises every day. 


  1. I agree Paul. I would add to my experience that the path we walk we walk alone. We have to walk that lonesome valley all by our self an old song says.

    The Church wants a one size fits all religion. Such a concept is only good for controlling the minds of the faithful.

    I like to think that everything I know or can say about God is wrong because it is incomplete. We may not see the fire, but we can feel the heat.

    1. Saint Augustine says "anytime you understand God it is not God that you have understood." .

    2. Quite Zen-like like many of Christ's parables.