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Center for Action and Contemplation

Faith, Hope, and Love

Thursday, August 25, 2016


Faith, Hope, and Love
Thursday, August 25, 2016

I want to talk about what I mean in the practical order by holding the opposites. This is “the third way” thinking I referenced earlier this week. The reconciling third isn’t necessarily a third opinion. It’s much more subtle than that. The third way acknowledges: “That is true and that is true, too, and I’ve got to learn to coexist with both of them.” It’s not fully a third position, but a holding tank where you recognize the truth that’s in both positions without trying to dismiss either one of them. That’s not easy. I believe it’s uniquely the work of the Spirit to help you “build the house of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:1) and to hold the tension. Yet the early difficulty is that you must indeed be able to distinguish the two positions for what they are. Third Way thinking is not naiveté or glibly saying, “Everything is beautiful.” Jesus objectively described the Pharisees as “white washed tombs” (Matthew 23:27) before he taught and practiced love of enemies and forgiving seventy times seven. You see why this takes such discernment. First, the two must be honestly named before you can remake them into a new kind of one!

I’ve been influenced by Carl Jung a great deal and find tremendous insight in Jungian psychology. But let me clarify that I’m not talking about the balancing of opposites that Jung describes (and which has its place). I’m talking about biblical faith and hope, which is something much more subtle and difficult. It’s not balancing or even eliminating the opposites, but holding the opposites, as Jesus did on the cross. To live inside this space of creative tension is the very character of faith, hope, and love—what we call the “theological virtues.” I was taught that the theological virtues were not virtues you could attain by effort, but only by participating in God’s own life.

Contradictions are not impediments to the spiritual life; rather, they are an integral part of the spiritual life. Every highly conscious person I have met has struggled with more than one deep contradiction. Contradictions don’t encourage you to abandon your critical faculties, but to sharpen them.

I’d like to point out the two great theophanies in the Bible: Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19) and Jesus on Mount Tabor (Matthew 17:1-9; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36). Mountaintop experiences are moments of enlightenment, encounter, clarity, and seeing. But in both cases there’s also a thick cloud. God is hidden in the darkness of the cloud on Mt. Sinai and Jesus is overshadowed by a dark cloud on Mt. Tabor. There’s the paradox of seeing and not seeing, knowing and not knowing. This is what biblical faith means to me. Yet we’ve often interpreted it as its opposite: absolute belief and certainty.

I’m not saying that you should dismiss the two positions because they don’t matter. That would be fuzzy relativism. It’s not that easy. I’m saying: hold the truth of both positions and take some degree of responsibility for both positions.

Let’s bring this to our contemporary scene. Can you be willing to honestly help carry the shame that has been projected onto our black brothers and sisters and to sincerely carry the responsibility that police officers feel, knowing there are good and bad people on both sides? Note your biases and repent of them.

Gateway to Silence:
Welcome what is.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Holding the Tension: The Power of Paradox (CAC: 2007), disc 2 (CD, MP3 download).

Image Credit: Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery (detail) by Pieter Breugel the Elder, 1565.
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