Thursday, April 21, 2011

Standing In The Mystery

When you deal with God you deal with mystery. For this reason it's not suprising that there are differences in our perceptions, in our theologies, in our spiritualities.

The Bible opens with two variant perceptions. In Genesis 1 the author thinks of God as transcendent, above and beyond creation; a God who says, "Let it be," and it happens.

In Genesis 2 a different author thinks of God as immanent, with us, in the world, with human qualities. God reaches into the soil to form the body of man and then breathes into the body the breath of life.

Two stories of how God created human beings, two differing perceptions of God.

Similar variety exists in theologizing about how God saved the world. Some theologians emphasize the resurrection of Jesus as the moment of his glorification; others focus on Jesus' crucifixion and death.

The author of 1 Peter 1:3 says God gave us salvation "through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." The author of John 3:14 says that salvation comes through Jesus' being "lifted up," an ambiguous term which in that context has the dual meaning of crucifixion and exaltation. He compares Jesus' crucifixion to Moses' creating a bronze serpent for the people to look at and be healed.

Which is the source or means of our salvation? In reality we would have to say both. The crucifixion and the resurrection are one act of love.

Because we are dealing with God, we are dealing with mystery, and successful dealing with mystery requires what is often called "non-dualistic thinking." Instead of black-and-white, either-or thinking, we are necessarily led to a lot of gray areas and both-and acceptance.

Those most advanced in the spiritual life, those experienced in contemplation and mysticism, come to acceptance of ambiguity and mystery.

Franciscan friar Richard Rohr proposes that Jesus was a non-dualistic thinker. In the beatitudes we see this kind of mindset: Blessed are the poor...those hungering for righteousness...the persecuted and the slandered.

Our immediate reaction to the idea that someone is blessed when he's persecuted or hungry or in pain is negative. It makes no sense --at first.

Wisdom often comes from standing in the question. The rush to judgment may stifle new insight and growth.

Of course we have to make judgments in many areas of our lives. Conscience must decide whether an act is right or wrong, and we cannot straddle the fence or fall into a relativism which fails to distinguish good from evil.

At the same time there are areas of our lives where living with the uncertainty and probing both sides are to our advantage.

There is tension in celebrating both Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Mature Christians embrace that tension, and allow this non-dual experience to color our thinking and living.

Being open to God's transcendence and immanence, to the Church's holiness and sinfulnes, to opinions liberal and conservative is no easy matter. Most of us want answers, and we want them now. The wait, the uncertainty, the poverty of non-resolution threaten our spiritual equilibrium and peace of mind.

But in truth we must be hesitant to resolve every issue with an immediate and often one-sided response.

To jump to a conclusion too quickly militates against one of the major beliefs of Christianity, namely that Jesus is both God and man, divine and human. After two thousand years we are still wrestling with the consequences of this revelation.

Christ's very being is an invitation to non-dualistic thinking. In the light of his both-and nature we must stand in the mystery.

We can exult in the "happy fault" which brought about Good Friday and at the same time sing with St. Augustine, "We are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song."

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