“Holy people live inside of a very creative tension that is held together by grace and compassion, never by logic alone” (Richard Rohr in the Daily Meditation for August 21, 2016.
The creative tension Rohr describes shows itself in the arena of paradoxes and contradictions. The human mind seems incapable of ridding itself of a “right or wrong” mindset. However, it is possible to hold two seemingly conflicting ideas or statements in mind at once without having to resolve the tension between the two. But it takes work!
Most of us are familiar with the saying that “every cloud has a silver lining.” This optimistic view of life can fuel a very helpful spiritual discipline that teaches us that “grace and compassion” (offered by God and the family of God) can turn a trial into a blessing. First, we must accept the fact that many situations in life are trials; denial, while it seems Christlike, is not helpful. The reality is that Jesus experienced trials; if we pretend that we are not under water at some points, we are not being honest and vulnerable. However, we also must also recognize that blessings often come from those trials. So the spiritual discipline I recommend – after training very hard in its reality this summer – is to anticipate the blessings that come hand in hand with the trials. Here are some examples from our difficult summer.
We had been on a waiting list for a first floor apartment in a complex we really liked since the day after we sold our house (on the first day it was for sale!). The week before we had to move, we learned that a second floor apartment was becoming available. Did we want to take it? We looked at the 14 step flight of stairs with grave concern; both of us struggle physically with stairs. But we had no choice but to take the apartment. My husband’s vascular surgeon’s gleeful response to that dilemma helped us to begin seeing a blessing in this trial. He thought it was wonderful that Fred had to climb steps on a regular basis because his body would create more blood vessels to carry blood to his painful legs and numb feet. After we moved into the apartment, we developed coping skills to deal with the stairs, including learning to be being more compassionate and helpful partners in the job of negotiating the stairs. Blessings from a trial!
My son recruited a team of three strong, physically fit “young” men to help us move. The first issue at hand was to get the sofa out of the house. After at least 30 minutes of pushing, switching from the front door to the side doors, contemplating angles and measurements, they decided it couldn’t be forced or manipulated through either door. (Steps outside one door had not been present when we moved it in.) We left it in the house, hoping the new owners would want it. They didn’t. What in the world would we do with this sofa? The only thing to do was to chop it up and take it out piece by piece. Who would do that!? I turned to a volunteer “Care and Repair” team at our church which had provided hours of assistance to us already this year (painting a room, siding our shed with recycled siding, fixing plumbing, etc.). Two men and a truck from this group of retirees came to our house, sliced the sofa horizontally, and carried it off to the land fill. Our trial (we still don’t have a sofa) became an uplifting adventure in service. Blessings from a trial!
Our apartment is nearly 500 sq.ft smaller than our house. How would we ever live in such a small space? I sorted, sold, gave away, and put in the trash A LOT of stuff. But still once we got furniture and stacks of boxes into the apartment, I was extremely concerned. Where would I put all this stuff??? This particular trial unleashed a flood of creativity. Everything found a home. We still have three pictures to hang (see the trial below), but on Sunday night, a week after we moved, I switched on the table lights and sat in the living room, encompassed by the warmth that our plants, books, pictures, and pillows had contributed to this beige space. It felt homey and cozy! In addition, it is so much easier to cook in, clean in, walk from one end to the other in. Blessings from a trial.
The walls of our apartment are mostly concrete – one reason we wanted to move here because they will save on heat and electricity bills. However, that means you need a hammer drill to drill holes to hang anything on those walls. The apartment maintenance man came to secure our tall bookcase to the wall and left his huge hammer drill so we could hang our pictures. A week later, my husband and I put down the drill and the screws and tape measure and admitted defeat. We had hung more than two dozen pictures, clocks, and hooks. Three large pictures intended for a large wall behind our TV with all its cables and plugs await hanging. We returned the drill and are waiting for our energy to return. The day we made that decision, there was a tornado warning in our area. Weathermen warned constantly that we should find safety in a building with concrete walls. I recognized the blessing to this trial when I realized I was sitting in a concrete building – not our manufactured home in an open park of 300 other manufactured homes.
Apprentices of Jesus can look forward to spend their lives learning to live in the creative tension created by paradoxes and contradictions, eliminating the false narrative that we have to be right about everything, and accepting the grace and compassion of God and God’s family as we look for blessings and trials in the same event.