Wednesday, December 1, 2010

View from the Fence


I love reading scripture. Not just Christian scriptures – although I love those most – but also other religions’ scriptures. After all, the word “scripture” just means “writings,” much like the word “bible” literally means “book.” But these words are commonly used to refer to the most ancient and sacred writings of a culture.

Anyway, I am starting to read the Upanishads again, some of the most revered texts of ancient India. The Isha Upanishad says, “In dark night live those for whom the world without alone is real; in night darker still, for whom the world within alone is real…. In dark night live those for whom the Lord is transcendent only; in night darker still, for whom he is immanent only.”

It seems like religious folks are always making one of those two mistakes. We tend to gravitate to the extremes – inner or outer world, transcendent or immanent.  The West tends toward the outer and transcendent; the East tends toward the inner and immanent. And as Kipling reminded us, “never the twain shall meet.”

I have likewise lived at the edges. As I look at my spiritual pilgrimage, I have not held one changeless theology. I have moved within a range of theologies. One decade I embrace transcendence, another decade immanence. One season of life I am more conservative, another more liberal.

Consequently I have friends on both sides of the theological divide. I never sat on the fence. I always passionately believed in the values of whatever side I was on. But now I see truth more like a balance of extremes. I have crossed the fence so often that the fence feels more familiar than either side.

Maybe I have just grown weary of the trips from one end of the playing field to the other. Perhaps my heart has stretched some in the process – like the Grinch whose “small heart grew three sizes that day.” I find that can hold hands with those on either side of the fence without much strain.

The differences between the extremes feel more like harmony than contradiction. It is creative tension rather than conflict. I also can see more clearly from here on the fence. There is more light here. The light shines from both directions as well as overhead. The extremes look so very dark from here. I did not realize how dark they were until I stopped moving.

Here on the fence paradox is enlivening. Conundrums are comforting. Words are signposts directing the hearer toward truth rather than bearers of truth. The divine is real presence instead of a distant figure from the scriptural past or a theological weapon used to pummel your opponent.

From the fence it all seems so simple. The fence is not meant to keep the sides apart. It is a meeting place where opposites reconcile, where enemies become friends, where two becomes one. Call me a fence sitter, if you want. I will be here to greet you when you become tired of the extremes. 

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