Willi Unsoeld was a mountaineer, educator, and speaker. His talk “The Spiritual Value of Wilderness” reflects the 1970s North American/European desire to re-unify what modernity had divided. In the context of Unsoeld’s mountaineering, Outward Bound-ing life, the division of human beings from nature was the template from which all the other divisions (man from woman; body from soul; human beings from God) could be derived.
We are the intellectual and spiritual heirs of this desire for unity. One positive development is that we speak nowadays more about “healing” than about “unity.” Unity is ecstatic and therefore fleeting and adolescent; healing is integrative and therefore enduring and hopeful.
The 1970s are now two generations ago; the times have changed. Re-unifying what modernity has divided is not our challenge and call. Our challenge and call is to live the creative tension of irreconcilables– which entails living beyond the limits of reason alone. Our challenge and call is to live the creative tension of paradox.
For example. The supreme paradox of all creation, for followers of Jesus, is his nature: fully human and fully divine. Reason cannot reconcile these two essentially different natures. However, holding these irreconcilable natures in tension points us to a way of living on this earth, now, that realizes divinity present in human vulnerability, and embraces humble, human self-giving as the way God’s power is most fully expressed. An ethic of graceful, creative living follows from this theology.
In our hot and crowded world, where we live in unprecedentedly close and often prickly proximity with people and ideas that are irreconcilably different– I’ll say it again– our challenge and call is to live the creative tension of these irreconcilables. Unity is not possible, but creativity is.
Here’s my list of the paradoxes at the heart of life– seeming opposites that, in truth, need each other for completion. I’d be curious to know what you, reader, might add (or subtract!):
life and death; male and female; liberal and conservative; Christian and Muslim; active and passive; sanity and insanity; presence and absence; grief and love.