Richard Rohr: Paradox Times Three

portraits-richard-rohrA few weeks ago, Franciscan Richard Rohr stopped by the Sojourners offices. It’s been several years since I’ve seen him and it was great to reconnect. He spent some quality time with our Sojourners’ pastor, Juba, a rescued pound pup with an incredibly joyous disposition.

Richard spoke with us about the nature of a contemplative life and laying down dualistic thinking, the binary mind. This is something that didn’t really make sense to me when I was younger, but now I’m beginning to glimpse a way into it.

Below is an excerpt adapted from Richard Rohr’s “Prophets Then, Prophets Now” (CD, MP3 download) and “Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer” (p 178).

A paradox is something that initially looks like a contradiction, but if you go deeper with it and hold it longer or at a different level, it isn’t necessarily so. Holding out for a reconciling third, a tertium quid, allows a very different perspective and gives a different pair of eyes beyond mere either/or. You’d think Christians would have been prepared for this. Notice that Jesus in many classic icons is usually holding up two fingers as if to say, “I hold this seeming contradiction together in my one body!” Jesus is the living paradox, which, frankly, confounds and disturbs most of us. Normally humans identify with only one side of any seeming contradiction (“dualistic thinking” being the norm among humans). For Jesus to be totally human would logically cancel out the possibility that he is also totally divine. And for us to be grungy human beings would cancel out that we are children of God. Only the mystical, or non-dual mind, can reconcile such a creative tension.

That’s why Jesus is our icon of transformation! That’s why we say we are saved “in him.” We have to put together what Jesus put together. The same reconciliation has to take place in my soul. I have to know that I am a son of earth and a son of heaven. You have to know that you are a daughter of God and a daughter of earth at the same time, and they don’t cancel one another out.

All of creation has a cruciform pattern of loss and renewal, death and resurrection, letting go and becoming more. It is a “coincidence of opposites” (St. Bonaventure), a collision of cross-purposes waiting for resolution–in us. We are all filled with contradictions needing to be reconciled. The price we pay for holding together these opposites is always some form of crucifixion. Jesus himself was crucified between a good thief and a bad thief, hanging between heaven and earth, holding on to both his humanity and his divinity, a male body with a feminine soul. Yet he rejected neither side of these forces, but suffered them all, and “reconciled all things in himself” (Ephesians 2:10).–Richard Rohr, OFM

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