Holding Tensions

Holding Tensions

An external review of our worshipping community said that we: “have great capacity to hold things together that are most often kept apart.” John Keats called this ‘negative capability’, which he saw in poets and artists.   

I found this posture beautifully expressed this week in a surprising place, a book by a Canadian Professor of English literature, Daniel Coleman: “In Bed with the Word: Reading, Spirituality, and Cultural Politics.” To make his point, Coleman quotes from another book Ronald Rolheiser’s “The Holy Longing.” I quote Coleman: ““To ponder biblically,” he [Rolheiser] writes, “is to stand before life’s great mysteries the way Mary stood before the various events of Jesus’ life, including the way she stood under the cross.” Rolheiser goes on to explain that this is what constitutes nobility of soul. “Usually we ascribe that quality,” he says, “to the person who, mindless of his or her own comfort, need, and pain, is willing for a higher reason to carry a great tension for a long period of time, not acquiescing to the temptation to prematurely resolve things.” He goes on to suggest that the willingness to carry tension is a sign of great respect, for it allows others to be themselves without demanding that they resolve one’s own concerns; it is also a mysterious mode of gestation, which turns hurt into healing, wound into supple flesh, and discord into friendship. . . I had never thought of prayer as a kind of pondering that is rooted in a character quality—one that is willing to live in unresolved tension. As soon as I read it, however, I thrust my first in the air and shouted out, “Of course! That’s right! . . . And I also see why I feel disappointed in myself when I break out from under tensions that are parts of my life and try to force early resolutions.” 

This final sentence reads me like book.  

Those who know me know that I write as a professional exegete, one who is occupied, even obsessively occupied, with seeking God’s voice in Scripture, for the sake of the witness of the church and for the life of the world. Nonetheless, I offer that we will experience tensions in the diverse experiences within ourselves as individuals and also in the diverse experiences of the body of Christ. Holding tension is essential for the mission of the church, it seems to me. To totally collapse one pole in favour of the other will rarely prove right, in the end.