To an earlier post, Claire submitted the following comment:
Sandy, I would love it if you could develop a bit your idea of ‘the ability to hold paradox is an essential spiritual aptitude for our time.’ It sounds good while I am not sure I understand exactly what you mean.
Claire and all, I realize that what sometimes seems obvious to me might not be so for others, so thanks for the opportunity to reflect on this a bit more. Here’s my take on this idea…
As finite beings, and for many of us in western cultures, there is a tendency to want to see things in terms of “either/or”, “black/white”, “right/wrong”, and a sense of security in imagining that there is one right way to understand or do anything. A lot of what we’ve gotten wrong in western “civilization” is what I call a “hierarchical dualism”: a dualism that sees things not whole but as separate and opposite, and a hierarchy that values one set of characteristics as better than the other. This kind of thinking gives rise to all kinds of oppression – racism, classism, sexism, ageism, heterosexism, etc. Unfortunately, this “hierarchical dualism” is the basis for the prevailing ecclesiology in the Roman Catholic Church, under the guise of “complementarity”. (See “Gender Complementarity” on p. 40 of Sexual Diversity and Catholicism: Toward the Development of Moral Theology.)
If I look at Scripture, I can find all kinds of confounding and delicious paradoxes. “Blessed are you when they persecute you.” “If you wish to save your life, you must lose it.” “It is in weakness that I am strong.” “By Christ’s wounds we are healed.” And so on…
None of these statements make logical sense on a purely cognitive level. But the longer I live, the more I can assent in my heart to the deep truth of these and other encounters with paradox. The Spirit of God will not let Herself be “boxed in”, confined to one choice or the other. This realization is an invitation to “both/and” rather than “either/or” thinking, and I deeply believe that only by seeing things whole, despite many apparent contradictions, can we hope to see an end to the violence that threatens us and the very existence of all life on this fragile planet.
If we could look at our differences with wonder and curiosity instead of clambering right up the ladder of inference, wouldn’t that be refreshing?