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Center for Action and Contemplation

Holding the Tension of Opposites

An Alternative Orthodoxy helps us discern which stories to include and which to transcend.
February 14th, 2022
Holding the Tension of Opposites

What happens when the stories of our early lives no longer resonate with what we’re experiencing now? The death of a someone close, condemnation from a once-loving church, an uphill battle for peace and justice — when dogma no longer feels right, when belief no longer aligns with life, it’s time to seek new understanding. The path through this kind of disorder is one Fr. Richard Rohr often calls holding the tension of opposites.

When Debbie Burkholder felt her theology crumble, she felt the call to transcend. But it was not easy. She also experienced anger, disappointment, shame, and loneliness.

Living School alum Debbie Burkholder shares how she held the tension when what she knew and believed no longer fit. 

By transforming shame and pain, God leads us closer to God’s loving heart. Fr. Richard explains that contemplation helps us let go and realize we are loved no matter what — and in the Body of Christ we are never alone.  

We Make Meaning Through Stories 

Stories are how we make meaning of the world. In my story we focus on my individual life, right or wrong determined by how “I” see it. In our story, we attach ourselves, often to the exclusion of others, with the groups we identify with, such as community, church, nationality, gender, and ethnicity.

But there is a much larger story, with much greater meaning — The Story, in which we let go of the need to know and control. This is the story of universal meaning, a sacred canopy that is always true and always grounded in Love.

“Stories are essential. How does a little girl make sense of her mother dying when she was 3 and her father murdered by his second wife a few years later? Meeting Jesus again at 40 unveiled the tapestry of my story — redemptive suffering, salvation, unconditional love, eternal perspective — and gave it purpose and a new beginning.”

—Beth M., CAC community member

The call to discern which stories to learn from and which to let go of can be hard for the ego, especially when suffering. It takes a lifetime of practice to consciously participate in the great story line connecting us all.

A Different Way of Knowing

Seeking a deeper connection to The Story can be painful, especially when we must transcend aspects of my story or our story that we’ve embraced as our identity. Exploring an alternative spiritual path, like the Franciscan Alternative Orthodoxy, can help us find God’s compassionate presence inside the chaos. It offers a way to uncover a source of spiritual wisdom validated by both scripture and our inner experiences

“I believe in the wisdom of creation that reminds us that life persists, not despite, but because of, death. Each human narrative contains weight that can help bend the universe toward justice but does not automatically do so.”

—Micky ScottBey Jones, ONEING: Unity and Diversity

Discovering which stories to include and those to transcend brings us closer to living more authentically inside The Story. Micky ScottBey Jones, faith-rooted activist and director of Healing Justice with Faith Matters Network believes “it is our responsibility to participate in the social transformation of our time by reaching up, with the stories of our individual lives, to further bend the moral arc of the universe toward justice.”

Watch as Mickey ScottBey Jones and CAC faculty member Brian McLaren discuss the changing narrative at the 2019 Wild Goose Festival.

Reflect with Us

What do we include—and what beliefs are we brave enough to transcend—to ground ourselves in Love?

“As a gay man, all my early adult years I believed I was damned and there was nothing I could do about it. Raised in an evangelical denomination, I was not accepted. But now I have learned that God created us all equal in God as one.”

—Richard P., CAC community member

We Conspire is a new monthly email from the Center for Action and Contemplation featuring wisdom and stories from the emerging Christian contemplative movement. Join spiritual seekers from around the world on a journey of transformation and discover your place in the Great Story Line that connects us all in the One Great Life. Sign up for the monthly email series and receive a free invitation to practice each month.

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