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Center for Action and Contemplation

Love Is the Movement; Doubt Is the Method

Tuesday, February 2, 2021


Love Is the Movement; Doubt Is the Method
Tuesday, February 2, 2021
Candlemas Day [1]

Today Brian McLaren shares brilliantly how doubt has often been a tool of love, drawing him ever closer to the heart of God. Applying his four-fold spiritual growth process of Simplicity, Complexity, Perplexity, and Harmony to himself, Brian writes:

Paul makes clear that nearly everything religious people strive for will eventually be swallowed up in something deeper, and in and of itself, is of no real worth. Even faith and hope don’t have the last word. Only love, he says, is the more excellent way [1 Corinthians 12:31]. . . . In fact, he dares to say, nothing else matters except faith expressing itself in love [Galatians 5:6].

Looking back on my own spiritual pilgrimage, I have come to see “the still more excellent way of love” as the telos [ultimate purpose] whose gravitational pull has been drawing me first through Simplicity, then through Complexity, then downward through Perplexity, and then deeper still, toward an experience that is too profound for words, the experience of Harmony. When I loved correctness in Stage One, yes, correctness mattered, but the love with which I pursued correctness mattered still more. When I loved effectiveness in Stage Two, yes, effectiveness mattered, but the love that moved me to pursue it mattered still more. When I loved honesty and justice in Stage Three, yes, honesty and justice mattered, but the love that burned in my heart for them mattered still more. . . .

Faith was about love all along. We just didn’t realize it, and it took doubt to help us see it. . . .

I wish I could go back to that younger, agonized me [in Stage Three Perplexity] and bring this message:

I know that your perplexity feels like a dead end. But wait, wait, endure, persist, do your work, see it through, hang in there, trust the process, and it will become a passageway, a birth canal. You actually need this purgation and unknowing to prepare you for a new depth of living, knowing, and loving. There is much that deserves to be doubted, and if you really care about the truth, you must pursue it, using doubt as a necessary tool. (It’s not your only tool, but it is one of your tools.)

I know you feel that everything you value is slipping through your fingers. But don’t clench your fists. Open your hands. Your open hands, open eyes, and open heart will prepare the way for new gains, not just new thoughts, but new ways of thinking. You have already added dualistic thinking, pragmatic thinking, and critical/deconstructive thinking to your skill set. You will soon learn a new skill: unitive or nondual seeing, in which knowing and unknowing, faith and doubt, clarity and mystery are not opposites, but complements. [2]

In this final stage, what Brian calls “Harmony,” we are not returned to certainty or knowing in any concrete way, but we are gifted with the “okayness” of not knowing and the coherence of “non-discriminatory love.” [3] Brian, raised Evangelical, really gets it! I do not believe Evangelicalism or street-corner Catholicism can be renewed at any depth without the discovery of the contemplative mind.

[1] Candles were historically blessed on this day to mark the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox and the slow return of light. Secular America created Groundhog Day with the same unconscious hope.

[2] Brian D. McLaren, Faith After Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to Do About It (St. Martin’s Essentials: 2021), 87, 88, 91.

[3] McLaren, 94.

Story from Our Community:
In this time of universal powerlessness and complete unknowing, I find true peace in the ability to completely turn my will and my life over to the care of God, understanding that I can never ‘figure this out.’ I pray for a great awakening for all of us and balm for the suffering across the planet. . . I ask each day to be shown what I can do to help. —Shaun P.

Image credit: Ladder and Chair (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
Image inspiration: How do we look beyond what we think we already know? At first glance the shadow of chair and ladder may be confusing, but shapes and meaning begin to emerge upon a longer contemplation.
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