Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering


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Dancing beyond Duality


The church I attend has a midweek gathering devoted to two types of prayer. We begin with a check-in, then do Centering Prayer for twenty minutes, then conclude with Lectio Divina, where we read a passage three times, asking ourselves specific questions about how we’re responding to the reading. I find it helpful to do both these exercises in a group, as the energy of the group supports my prayer and the responses of others in Lectio Divina enrich my own.

Recently the reading was Romans 7:15–25. I immediately felt my soul resonating with the very first sentences: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” As I continue to prioritize and make choices about participating in a broad range of opportunities in my life, I often find myself making choices that, in hindsight, are not helpful or healthy for me. It’s an age-old conundrum that I would imagine resonates in your heart and soul as well.

Reading further, we can find ourselves caught up in the Apostle Paul’s legalistic language and tendencies, and that was where our group spent much of our time. We struggled with Paul’s dualistic hate for what he calls “the flesh,” which we felt is part of God’s creation just as much as the spirit, what Paul calls “the inmost self.” We wrestled with Paul’s law-based framework and found ourselves discussing the differences between Jesus and Paul.

Paul had a legalistic background and training, and it appears he spent much of his time constructing a “theology,” a structured set of beliefs about the nature of God, Jesus, and humanity. This is in pretty stark contrast to Jesus, whose parables were much more focused on addressing a concrete, immediate reality in his listeners’ lives. Jesus was much more interested in our lived experience of God, rather than in constructing a framework upon which to hang laws about living with God.

This prior paragraph, of course, illustrates dualistic thinking: I either approach life like Paul, or like Jesus. Interestingly, in the early centuries of Christianity, churches tended toward Paul. They established hierarchies (priests, bishops) and religious rules/laws about how to create and sustain Christian community. In contrast, early mystics like the Desert Mothers and Fathers left such law-based life behind, moved out into the Egyptian desert, and set up a collection of hermitages where they told stories (parables) to help each next generation learn about our lived experience of God.

All this relates to how I am seeking to live out this idea of a podcast on hope. I’ve written recently about my tendency to “go it alone,” and that has applied to my thoughts about this podcast as well. As I’ve delved into the nuts and bolts about podcasting, I’ve realized that I cannot do this alone. There simply isn’t enough time and energy available. My initial response was, “Well, then I won’t do it,” but I couldn’t reconcile that reaction with the very clear way that God brought this idea into my life. I found myself feeling caught in the duality of yes/no and I just couldn’t see a way forward.

DOS Hands cropThen God provided me with some conversations and a dream that together helped me to see a third way. I realized that Yes was one end of a spectrum and No was the other—it wasn’t a duality, but a multiplicity of possibilities. Hanging out in the middle of that spectrum was “Yes, and.” In this case, “and” means collaborators. I need to reach out, in and through my various communities, to find organizations willing to take on this dream and help me make it a reality.

In the past, I admit I haven’t been a very good collaborator. I was taught at a young age that success only meant “success at the highest pinnacle of achievement.” As a result, I’m far too perfectionistic and have a tendency to say, “My way or not at all.” That usually means I end up doing all the work. I tend to think I’m happier that way, but that likely isn’t true, and it also means that many of my ideas never see the light of day. I don’t follow through—due to that lack of time and energy to achieve “perfect” results—and those ideas fall into an abyss. Maybe God then picks them up and hands them to others…I hope so. Today, I am also learning to grieve that necessity.

What I’ve recently realized is that, for such ideas to manifest in the world and make a difference, I have to let go of my need for control and perfection. I have to release the concept that ideas are “mine” and recognize that they came first from the mind of my Creator. I have received each one as a gift. Will I hide them away in the dark, letting them perish, or let them out into the light so they can illumine the world?

This week I will be attending a reception of a local organization called Interfaith Community Services. The reception celebrates the milestone of 100 partnering faith communities—quite a testament to collaboration! I intend to walk in with my heart and eyes wide open, hoping to have conversations about the hope podcast and see if anyone is interested in the idea of a collaboration. If so, great! If not, I will see what’s next. One step at a time, I will follow the path and see where it leads. I will release any idea of “mine” and “now” for this podcast idea and let it unfold on a spectrum that God creates rather than a duality I think I control.

I invite you to pray for me in this process, that I can continue to release duality and perfection and welcome whatever comes. I also invite you to consider what dualities you might need to release in your own life.

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