The Ability to Hold Paradox

August 24th, 2020 by JDVaughn Leave a reply »
Image credit: Garden of Wish Fulfilment (detail), Arshile Gorki, 1944, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon Portugal.

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.

Order, Disorder, Reorder:
Part Three

Reorder: The Promised Land
Sunday,  August 23, 2020

Our recent Daily Meditations have been focusing on what seems to me a universal pattern of spiritual transformation that takes us from Order, through Disorder, to Reorder. Order, by itself, normally wants to eliminate any disorder or diversity, creating a narrow and cognitive rigidity in both people and systems. Disorder, by itself, closes us off from any primal union, meaning, and eventually even sanity in both people and systems. Our focus of this week is Reorder, or transformation of people and systems, which happens when both are seen to work together.

Like most other kinds of growth, this spiral probably happens over and over throughout our lives, and reveals itself in the Bible:

Garden of Eden —> Fall —> Paradise.

Walter Brueggemann teaches three kinds of Psalms: Psalms of Orientation —> Psalms of Disorientation —> Psalms of New Orientation. [1]

Christians call the pattern Life —> Crucifixion —> Resurrection.

Many now speak generally of Construction —> Deconstruction —> Reconstruction.

We are indeed “saved” by knowing and surrendering to this universal pattern of reality. Knowing the full pattern allows us to let go of the first order, accept the disorder, and, sometimes hardest of all—to trust the new reorder.

Every religion in its own way is talking about getting us to the reorder stage. Various systems would call it “enlightenment,” “paradise,” “nirvana,” “heaven,” “salvation,” “springtime,” or even “resurrection.” It is the life on the other side of death, the victory on the other side of failure, the joy on the other side of birthing pains. It is an insistence on going through—not under, over, or around. There is no nonstop flight to reorder. To arrive there, we must endure, learn from, and include the Disorder stage, transcending the first naïve Order—but also still including it! It amounts to the best of the conservative and the best of the liberal positions. People who have reached this stage, like the Jewish prophets, might be called “radical traditionalists.” They love their truth and their group enough to critique it; and they critique it enough to maintain their own integrity and intelligence. These wise ones have stopped overreacting but also over defending. They are usually a minority of humans.

Based on years of spiritual direction, I have observed that conservatives must let go of their illusion that they can order and control the world through religion, money, war, or politics. True release of control to God will show itself as compassion and generosity, and less boundary keeping. Liberals, however, must surrender their skepticism of leadership, eldering, or authority, and find what is good, healthy, and deeply true about a foundational order. This will normally be experienced as a move toward humility and real community.


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