Have you been practicing curiosity? Ready to go deeper?
If curiosity is the handle that cracks the door into Open Mind, then the willingness to hold paradox is the flickering flame (like that burning bush) that draws us further in.
I've always been enchanted by the idea of paradox. In high school when we discussed Niels Bohr's assertion that, "The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement, but the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth," I found myself turning that sparkly statement around inside my 17 year-old brain just to enjoy the fabulous play of light.
Somehow, encountering the reality of a thing doesn't always seems so sparkly as the idea. Such was the case last week when I received the stamp of approval on my thoughts from the same person who the week before had communicated a pretty definitive judgment and rebuke regarding a different set of reflections. I know this person well enough to accept she meant well, but the judgment had touched a tender place and it still hurt.
As a result, the approving email did not deliver the balm she may have intended it to. In fact, it made me flinch. My heart space caved as my shoulders came forward. Noting my body's response, I became curious what actually was going on in my heart. Ah...it was the arrival of that familiar guest, Cynicism, who questioned, "Who appointed her to be your personal set of theological bumper rails intending to keep you on the straight and narrow?!"
Curiosity quickly responded, "Can you be sure that was her intent? What if this is her way of apologizing for an insensitive and hasty judgment? Or, what if it's motivated by something else altogether? What if you actually don't know?"
Curiosity's inquiry created immediate discomfort. I fidgeted in my seat as I considered the possibility that this one person could embody both judgment and kindness. Of course I know this truth in my head--it's true of us all--but practicing it in my heart was going to require that I step out of the small, protected and predictable world of Cynicism, the same Cynicism that reinforces my favorite illusions of I know and I have the truth. Leaving Cynicism, I'd cross into the more expansive and mysterious company of Compassion, a space less concerned with judging right and wrong and more concerned with belonging.
Compassion's space might sound warm and fuzzy, but in contrast to my fascination with the idea of paradox, I wanted to explore this actual paradox about as much as one might want to explore mud.
As I pondered whether I was willing to step into and accept the reality of this other's paradox, an even more pressing question arose: Was I willing to compassionately move toward and claim my own paradox?
Was I willing to look with eyes of compassion on my own eagerness to assign ill intent? Or on the fear underneath that eagerness? Or the tenderness underneath that? Could I hold in compassion my hasty deployment of Cynicism for my own protection? Or how threatened and grateful I became at Curiosity's arrival? Most difficult of all, could I remember my strength and resilience even as the reminder of her judgment laid bare my vulnerability and fragility? Was I willing to make space for and accept all of who I am? The parts I like, and the parts I don't? The parts others affirm and the parts they condemn?
Only after attending compassionately to my own paradox could I attend to hers. In one parable Jesus encourages us to attend to the log in our own eye first before addressing the speck in another's (Matthew 7:3). In a later parable, he recommends we leave the sorting to the ones who harvest (Matthew 13:30). For those of us who like to set others straight, these are stories to pay attention to.
How can Jesus be so comfortable with, so accepting of paradox? I think it must be because he trusts that there is nothing about our own or another's failure that can separate us from God. In fact, he recognizes that whatever is present will ultimately be used for our healing.
Julian of Norwich said it this way: First the fall, and then the recovery from the fall, and both are the mercy of God.
I was speaking with a mentor recently about a failure of mine and my fear over the damage it had done. "Have you ever learned from someone's poor example, poor leadership?" she inquired. Having worked with my share of less-than-stellar leaders, I assured her I had, in fact, learned a lot from them about how not to lead. "Are you willing," she continued, "to be used as a teacher in even this way? Are you willing to humbly accept that sometimes your failure will become the powerful teaching that comes through you, highlighting for another how not to do it?"
Friends, what if our efficacy as changemakers, as parents, as leaders is not dependent on our successes? What if our efficacy is held within a much larger, more expansive vision of perfection, or completion?
What if we really believed the words of God that came through Isaiah?
I don't think the way you think. The way you work isn't the way I work. . . . The words that come out of my mouth [will] not come back to me empty-handed. They'll do the work I sent them to do, they'll complete the assignment I gave them. Isaiah 55:8, 11
You and I are some of those very words. Our efficacy, with its beautiful and flawed execution, is assured. We can be awake and accepting and compassionate toward it all, in ourselves and in others. To quote Dame Julian again, "All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."
If you can hold space for that possibility then you can go out in peace and be led forth in joy. May it be so.
Have you been practicing curiosity? Ready to go deeper?