PARADOXICAL

The faith chronicles

Thursday, March 06, 2008

 

A paradoxical faith


Ten years in a Christian community, and what have I gotten into? Well, no less than novel experiences that brought me back to what I’d discover to be an ancient path. …Various new relationships that awakened me to the ones I've already got and have taken for granted all along. …Probing questions that can only find answers in an otherwise bigger question, the question of faith. If I sum up my faith experience in the context of the charismatic renewal, I’d say it’s a harvest of life-changing paradoxes.

First, a clarification on the definition of “paradoxical.” “Paradoxical” doesn't mean “contradictory” but only “seemingly” so. It's because the logic behind a paradox is deep that it is not readily evident. I'd say a paradox is "an enigmatic truth." Contradiction is mere irony, if not illogic. Here’s how Etymology Online defines the word, which originated in 1540: [F]rom L. paradoxum "paradox, statement seemingly absurd yet really true," from Gk. paradoxon, from neut. of adj. paradoxos "contrary to expectation, incredible," from para- "contrary to" + doxa "opinion."

Now, why the inordinate interest in paradoxes? Is the interest purely intellectual? Well, no. It just so happened that this thing kept on repeating and repeating along my journey until it became a curious pattern and brought me into this deafening conclusion: What I had was a beautiful experience of the mystery called life, in a faith replete with paradoxes.

Of course, this is not to reduce my journey into Christianity to a merely beautiful language. My point is just this: It appears that God loves to talk in the language of paradoxes, and that’s definitely not something to sneeze at. Let’s take just a random survey:

"We lose what we strive to keep and gain what we freely give away."

"Love your enemies."

"Jesus is risen from the dead."

"Jesus is son of God and son of man."

"It is when we are weak that God is strong."

"Whoever loves his own life will lose it; whoever loses his life for My sake will find it."

"Zeal is strength under control."

"Believe in God in order to understand God; to believe is to see (not “to see is to believe”)."

"God's wisdom is foolishness to the world."

"Where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more."

"Jesus' death on the cross is a symbol of conquest, not defeat."

"To set man free from fear, it is necessary that he cultivate in his heart that true fear of God, the beginning of all wisdom." (a paraphrasing of Pope John Paul II's words)

"Joy is perfected in suffering."

"One can give without loving, but one cannot love without giving."

"We are saved not by good works but by faith alone. But we cannot be saved without doing good works."

"True freedom means 'freedom to do what we ought', freedom to obey God." (Pope John
Paul II)

Notice how each line is worth at least a whole day of reflection.

Now let’s take a second look at the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, and note his unprecedented eloquence in expressing the Christian enigma: "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, where there is hatred, let me sow your love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.

"O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life."

In paradoxes, there is that constant opposition that seems to be resolved through careful balancing between the extremes. Isn’t that what they say about wisdom? In medio virtus stat: “Virtue lies in the middle.”

The Pope himself, in Crossing the Threshold of Hope, summarized the Christian faith in the same fashion, seemingly enigmatic at first, but beautifully truthful at the end: "To find life, one must lose life; to be born, one must die; to save oneself, one must take up the cross."

My experience with paradoxical thoughts and inspirations simply abound in my life in community. I didn’t even have to seek them; they just pop up, even in the most unexpected moments: Bible study, watching TV, reading a magazine, talking with someone, etc. Maybe paradoxes are God’s way of letting us plumb the depths of His wisdom, which is a well that, after all these years, remains to be explored for undiscovered spiritual treasures.

Meanwhile the beautiful, if at times perplexing, journey filled with paradoxes continues...

(Originally conceived 9.2000. Finished 3.7.2008)


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