15th Sunday Reflection
THE GIFT OF PARADOX AT THE HEART OF MYSTERY – Mark 6:7-13
The view is obstructed; the way forward is unclear. Now we are given a choice, to either leave the arena or to gain a higher advantage point, like Zacchaeus scaling the sycamore tree.
Many choose to leave the arena, to look the other way because contradictions can feel like we are standing on burning coals; we want to jump off as quickly as possible to stand on safer ground. Contradiction is defined as two things that cannot be true at the same time. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line from my daily lived experience, yet in four-dimensional space-time, a geodesic curve becomes the shortest path between two points, while in ‘Wrinkle time’, all bets are off.
Contradictions and paradox appear to pull us into opposing directions. There are times when we are called to come face to face with those beliefs that would pull the carpet from under our feet; does Mercy trump Justice, does Love or retribution and compensation restore our human dignity? Where do we find a place to stand when it comes to praying to our God of Peace to bless the tools of war, yet turn away as unworthy our brothers and sisters in ‘disordered lifestyles’?
This is the gift of paradox, both faith and doubt that offer us the opportunity of gaining a higher advantage point leading ultimately to truth and wisdom. The gospel has also shown us how fear brings us to reject that Truth and Wisdom; even to the rejection of Jesus himself. Many turn away from Jesus’ difficult words in some sort of ‘pietistic haze’; some will run to the comfort of the neat boxes of dogma and exclusion, while others turn away in disgust at what they perceive as hypocrisy.
Our binary, dualistic mind cannot deal with contradictions, paradox, or that mystery at the very heart of religion. Sadly, a large percentage of religious people become and remain quite rigid thinkers because their religion taught them that to be faithful, obedient, and stalwart in the ways of God, they had to seek some ideal ‘order’ instead of growing in their capacity to Love.
Contradiction are really two things that cannot be true at the same time by our present frame of logic, our present vantage point. As long as we do not re-frame our reality, as long as we insist on our own frame of reference, we will not be able to find the wisdom in paradox.
‘The kingdom of God’ is Jesus’ term for the bigger frame, or what we often call ‘the big picture’. We need to find some framework that allows you to stand back and look at the moment with the eyes of Infinite Love and Mercy. Then you’ll see that many things which appear to be contradictory through logical, egocentric, dualistic thinking might not necessarily be so to a non-dual mind.
A paradox is a seeming contradiction that may nonetheless be true if seen in a different frame than my ‘rational’ mind. A paradox is beyond the normal way of thinking. Contradictions are based on logic, a set of assumptions or expectations which we take for granted.
Conversion, a changed mind, allows us to call those assumptions and expectations into question. When we are overly attached to your ego, letting go our cherished opinions is difficult. It takes true transformation to allow ourselves to look at ourselves from a bit of distance, with some calmness, compassion, and the humility and honesty to know that we don’t know.
Contradiction and paradox therefore calls us into the centre to come to some new way of seeing, some new way of understanding; to bring us to insight and that light-bulb moment that will challenge us to forever change our world-view. Everything must be left behind to gain everything.
There were periods in the life of St Francis when confusion completely clouded the mind of the saint. At one point, Francis was sure he was called to seek glory in battle and join the Crusades. After journeying only two days from Assisi in full armour, Francis received a dream in which God told him to return home. This was not his path. Later, in the crumbling ruins of the church at San Damiano, Francis was praying before an icon of Christ, when he heard a voice: “Francis, rebuild My Church which is falling into ruin.”
The young man jumped to his feet and set about collecting large stones to repair the church. A wiser man looking on might have suggested: “Francis, I don’t quite think that is what God had in mind.” Indeed, Francis would later understand that God was calling him to rebuild the church, the people of God, through the witness of a holy life.
In our walk with Christ, we too will encounter periods of deep confusion and doubt. What is God asking of me? What am I to do in this situation? The Lord may feel far from our prayers for guidance. Like St. Francis, we must take a step forward in faith, full of goodwill and trusting that the God of Love is guiding our steps.
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