HOLDING THE TENSION BETWEEN OPPOSITES 10-09-2014

“A culture that prefers the ease of either or thinking to the complexities of paradox has a hard time holding opposites together. We want light without darkness, the glories of spring and summer without the demands of autumn and winter.” –Parker Palmer

Jesus’ disciple, Saint Thomas (d. 73), known as doubting Thomas, thought death and life were irreconcilable. So he wouldn’t believe the resurrection without hard evidence. Thomas’ disbelief is ours. How can two polar opposites meet—how can death and life be reconciled in resurrection? Thomas couldn’t comprehend life and death reconciled without touching the wounds of the risen Christ (John 20:19-31).

Many of us, like Thomas, have drawn strong boundaries and disbelieve the possibility of transcending them. But this is the Easter experience. Jesus shows us that however vividly the differences between opposites strike us, they nevertheless remain completely inseparable and interdependent in God’s realm. One opposite can’t exist without the other. We’re never aware of pleasure except in relation to pain. I might be feeling relaxed and comfortable now, but I’m only able to realize this because of the existence of discomfort.

We begin to understand why life is totally frustrating when viewed as a world of separate opposites. In trying to separate the opposites and clutching those we judge positive, such as pleasure without pain, life without death, good without evil, Easter without the cross, we’re striving after mirages. We might as well strive for a world of days and no nights, ups and no downs.

All opposites—such as mass and energy, subject and object, life and death—are so much each other that they’re perfectly inseparable. This seems unbelievable. But this is an essential point of the Alexandrian Mystics, which I address in my book.