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Faces on Faith: The play of paradox

May 5, 2014
By GEORGE E. MORRIS - Captiva Chapel by the Sea ( , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

I have come to believe that whatever our dream images of life may be, or what they have been, it is only when we live into life's paradoxes -- engage in the play of paradox -- that we come to realize the fullness of our humanity and experience our better selves.

Parker Palmer helped me to see and better understand this in his book, The Courage to Teach. He writes: "Holding the tension of opposites contains a power that wants to pull my heart open to something larger than myself. The tension always feels difficult, sometimes destructive. But if I can collaborate with the work it is trying to do rather than resist it, the tension will not break my heart -- it will make my heart larger."

The saints of many traditions remind us that our intentional engaging of the paradoxes of life is what it means to be on a spiritual journey. Saint Francis, for instance, pointed to paradox when he said, "It is in giving that we receive, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life." The Buddha told his students that taking refuge in the community was vital to their spiritual growth, but he also cryptically advised, "Look not for refuge to anyone besides yourselves." Lao Tze, founder of Taoism, taught, "To be empty is to be fullTo have little is to possess," and Jesus warned, "Be ye therefore wise and serpents and harmless as doves."

Article Photos

Rev. George Morris. PHOTO PROVIDED.

When we choose to embrace and live into life's paradoxes/questions we realize growth -- the expansion of our horizons of understanding and enlightenment.

Don't run from or make detours around life's paradoxes. This good wisdom from 20th century theologian Jacque Maritain suggests why:

"One of the great spiritual tragedies is that so many people of good will would become persons of noble soul, if only they would not panic and resolve the painful tensions within their lives too prematurely, but rather stay with them long enough, as one does in a dark night of the soul, until those tensions are transformed and help give birth to what is most noble inside of us -- compassion, forgiveness, and love."

Princeton professor of pastoral care, Dr. Seward Hiltner, said it this way: "Live the questions!" I like the idea of playing with them!

I'm convinced, by my life experiences and observations of others, that some of our best seasons of spiritual growth come from our wrestling with, or just resting with the tensions of life. Or, to say it another way, when we "live the questions" we cultivate the spiritual stamina to "hang in there" with God, come what may.



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