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The Ability to Hold Paradox

Order, Disorder, Reorder: Part Three

The Ability to Hold Paradox
Monday, August 24, 2020

Beyond rational and critical thinking, we need to be called again. This can lead to the discovery of a “second naïveté,” which is a return to the joy of our first naïveté, but now totally new, inclusive, and mature thinking. —Paul Ricœur (1913–2005)

People are so afraid of being considered pre-rational that they avoid and deny the very possibility of the transrational. Others substitute mere pre-rational emotions for authentic religious experience, which is always transrational. —Ken Wilber

These two epigraphs are not precise quotations; they’re summaries drawn from my reflections on two great thinkers who more or less describe for me what happened on my own spiritual and intellectual journey. I began as a very conservative pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic, living in 1940’s and 1950’s Kansas, pious and law abiding, buffered and bounded by my parents’ stable marriage and many lovely liturgical traditions that sanctified my time and space. This was my first wonderful simplicity or period of Order. I was a very happy child and young man, and all who knew me then would agree.

Yet, I grew in my experience and was gradually educated in a much larger world of the 1960s and 1970s, with degrees in philosophy and theology, and a broad liberal arts education given me by the Franciscans. That education was the second journey into rational complexity and critical thinking. I had to leave the garden, just as Adam and Eve had to do (Genesis 3:23–24), even though my new Scripture awareness made it obvious that Adam and Eve were probably not historical figures, but important archetypal symbols. Darn it! I was heady with knowledge and “enlightenment” and was surely not in Kansas anymore. I had passed, like Dorothy, “over the rainbow.” It is sad and disconcerting for a while outside the garden, and some lovely innocence dies in this time of Disorder. Many will not go there, precisely because it is a loss of seeming “innocence”—things learned at our “Mother’s knee,” as it were.

As time passed, I became simultaneously very traditional and very progressive, and I have probably continued to be so to this day. I found a much larger and even happier garden (note the new garden described at the end of the Bible in Revelation 21!). I fully believe in Adam and Eve now, but on about ten more levels. (Literalism is usually the lowest and least level of meaning.) I no longer fit in with either staunch liberals or strict conservatives. This was my first strong introduction to paradox, and it honed my ability to hold two seemingly opposite positions at the same time. It took most of midlife to figure out what had happened—and how and why it had to happen.

This “pilgrim’s progress” was, for me, sequential, natural, and organic as the circles widened, and as I taught in more and more countries. While the solid ground of the perennial tradition [1] never really shifted; I found that the lens, the criteria, the inner space, and the scope continued to expand. I was always being moved toward greater differentiation and larger viewpoints, and simultaneously toward a greater inclusivity in my ideas, a deeper understanding of people, and a more honest sense of justice. God always became bigger and led me to bigger places.

References:
[1] The Perennial Tradition includes the constant themes and truths that recur in all world religions and philosophies at their most mature and deep levels. For key points, see https://cac.org/living-school/program-details/the-perennial-tradition/

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass: 2011), 105‒107.

Image credit: Garden of Wish Fulfilment (detail), Arshile Gorki, 1944, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon Portugal.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Only the whole self is ever ready for the whole God, so Reorder always involves moving beyond the dualistic mind toward a more spacious, contemplative knowing. —Richard Rohr
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