“Enlightenment is not a simplified state. Not at all. It is the supreme tolerance of cognitive dissonance.” — Robert Thurman
“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald
I remember seeing an interview on CBC that the brilliant Barbara Frum did with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. He was the guru who established Transcendental Meditation ™ and brought the spiritual practice of twice daily 20-minute meditations to the masses (even into corporate culture!). At first he was endorsed by The Beatles and other celebrities; then his organization became a kind of McDonald’s of meditation. Yet the inevitable spiritual materialism involved in such mass marketing was outweighed by the fact that he did introduce my generation to contemplative practice, and for that I am eternally grateful. In my case, the practice evolved into Benedictine Christian meditation and centring prayer.
There was a telling moment in the interview when the Maharishi said with his characteristic “transcendent” giggle that “life is bliss.” Without missing a beat, Barbara replied, “Not in my experience.”
Fast forward to this past Easter and reflections I read positing a mystical resurrection before death in counterpoint to the one afterward. Here is the description of the former: “It is awakening to the infinite or eternity within us. This happened to Jesus at the moment of his baptism. He transcended the horizontal moment of time and entered into the realm of infinity and eternity.” Now it’s my turn to say . . . not in my experience! In fact, as far as I understand the call of Christianity, with Saint Thérèse of Lisieux for backup, the Sacred Heart doesn’t do away with the crux of the horizontal and vertical, i.e. the contradictions and tensions of life. It contains and embraces them.
This very life, on all levels, is held together by polarities and opposites. “Conflict is Life” is the first chapter in the best little book I’ve read on the subject, entitled Tensions by H.A. Williams (1919-2006), the eminent British priest and theologian. He goes on to explore what we all have to navigate if we’re not going to collapse our consciousness into the rigidity of fundamentalism on one hand, or the false peace of disengaged detachment on the other. We have to find our way through the narrow gate between dependence and autonomy, faith and doubt, contemplation and activism; not to mention the ground level dilemmas of city or country, staying put or travelling, solitude or community. As Thérèse famously said as a child, “I choose all!”
St. Thérèse herself was characterized by extreme paradox and contradiction. A pampered child who became selfless. A tortured soul full of joy. An uneducated woman who became a Doctor of the Church. A self-proclaimed saint professing “the little way.”
Yes, we are called to embrace infinity and eternity . . . yet as long as we inhabit a mortal body in finite time, all the other tensions ensue: believing in a God we can’t see; learning to love when pierced by hatred; seeing abundance in spite of lack; discovering freedom where control is the state religion; maintaining self-worth when stripped of dignity; finding beauty in the midst of ugliness; keeping faith when faced with uncertainty. “Everything is a grace . . .”
Speyer is a Benedictine Oblate as well as an author, subject matter expert for e-therapy, clinical consultant and director of InnerView Guidance International (IGI). He also directs a documentary series entitled GuideLives for the Journey: Ordinary Persons, Extraordinary Pathfinders. http://www.guidelives.ca/ Connect with Cedric on https://www.facebook.com/cms94 or via email@example.com