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Holding the Tension
Holding the Tension

Living the Contradictions

Friday, January 19, 2024

Father Richard explains how living with paradox can open us to experience the mystery of God:

The question we must ask ourselves is, “How do we live the contradictions?” Live them—not just endure them or relieve ourselves from the tension by quickly resolving them. The times when we meet or reckon with our contradictions are often turning points, opportunities to enter into the deeper mystery of God. I’m deliberately using the word mystery to point to depth, an open future, immense freedom, a kind of beauty and truth that cannot be fully spoken or defined.

Many mystics speak of the God-experience as simultaneously falling into an abyss and being grounded. This sounds like a contradiction, but when we allow ourselves to fall into the abyss—into hiddenness, limitlessness, unknowability, a void without boundaries—we discover it’s somehow a rich, supportive, embracing spaciousness where we don’t have to ask (or answer) the questions of whether we’re right or wrong. We’re being held and so do not need to try to “hold” ourselves together. Please reflect on that.

This might be the ultimate paradox of the God-experience: “falling into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). When we can give ourselves to it and not fight it or explain it, falling into the abyss is ironically an experience of ground, of the rock, of the foundation. This is totally counterintuitive. Our dualistic, logical mind can’t get us there. It can only be known experientially. That’s why the mystics use magnificent metaphors—none of them adequate or perfect—for this experience.

Mystery is not something we can’t know. Mystery is endless knowability on many different levels. Living inside such endless knowability is finally a comfort, a foundation of ultimate support, security, unrestricted love, and eternal care. It usually takes much of our life to get there; it’s surely what we mean by “growing” in faith. Each soul must learn on its own, hopefully aided by observing other faith-filled people.

The source of spiritual wisdom is to hold questions and contradictions patiently, much more than to find quick certitudes, to rush to closure or judgment as the ego and dualistic mind want to do. The ego wants to know it is right. It wants to stand on its own self-created “solid” ground—not the mysterious solid ground of the abyss. This is why so much religion remains immature and is often a hiding place for people who want to be in control instead of people trained in giving up control to a Loving Presence.

A mature friend or a good spiritual director will companion us as we learn how to negotiate the darkness, how to wait it out, how to hold on, how to live in liminal or threshold space. The dualistic mind just doesn’t know how to do that. The dualistic mind cannot deal with paradox, but the nondual mind can. In fact, it almost relishes and revels in mystery. Nondual consciousness is at home inside of the abyss.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Holding the Tension: The Power of Paradox (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2007), conference talk. Available as MP3 audio download.

Image credit: Oliver Hotakainen, Untitled (detail), Finland, 2021, photograph, public domain. Click here to enlarge image.

How do we keep fire afloat on water? How do we act for justice and stay humble and listening?

Story from Our Community:  

After my 16-year-old daughter was killed, God arrived into my home and held me for a year. She [God] was with me in my endless tears and the moments of trying to explain grief to my two living daughters. She was with me when I drove to the store, when I faced the grief of my daughter’s friends. She was there, holding me tight. Returning to church, She held me as my friends cried. She revealed herself to me in the silent afternoons as I sat in my chair. In the years that have followed, I have never doubted that God is near. —Peggy W.

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