Richard Rohr writes powerfully and eloquently about the need to live in the domain of “duality” and recognize the specific relevance of the notion in the realm of spirituality. We do “see through a glass darkly” as the Apostle Paul once noted because this world we live in, which we daily imbibe (usually without any conscious awareness) is made up of infinite complexity, teeming with paradox stemming from this “duality.” One simple example is merely a favorite notion of mine, “We are not what we know ourselves to be. We are much more than that.” But being mere mortals, clothed in flesh, we have had to carve for ourselves an identity fashioned from the ephemeral so that we can function in this beautiful world, a world which…ephemeral thought it might be…is God’s creation.
As we pursue this path which Rohr and others suggest, we must “wrestle with words and meanings” (T. S. Eliot) and thus we dive headfirst into this maelstrom of ambiguity, confusion, doubt, and fear. This is because, here in this land banished from conscious awareness by our “common-sense” day-to-day world, we discover “meaning” and learn that “meaning” inevitably taunts us with “meaninglessness.”
Let me explain why with a simple philosophical maneuver. Imagine a world in which everything was colored blue. In that world, “blue” would therefore not exist for “blue” has no meaning without its complement, “not-blue.” Asking someone to pay attention to “blue” would be like asking a fish to see water.
And the whole of language lies in a similar matrix. However, I must insist that I don’t spent a lot of time wondering about the meaning of most words that I use! If I did, I would soon be swallowed up by an abyss and cease to be functional! I thank the good Lord for this neurological gift as some are not so fortunate. But some words I do deign to explore…to name just a few…god, love, truth, and “right”… and most importantly, in my case, deign to explore the word “Lewis”, the origin of Literary “Lew”. With each of these terms, which I have deemed significant, their complement (including opposite) has to be considered in order for the words to have meaning.
Let me close with an excerpt from W. H. Auden about this treacherous journey. The “Star of Nativity” is speaking his Auden’s Christmas Oratorio:
All those who follow me are led
Onto that glassy mountain where are no
Footholds for logic, to that Bridge of Dread,
Where knowledge but increases vertigo;
Those who pursue me take a twisting lone
To find themselves immediately alone
With savage water or unfeeling stone,
In labyrinths where they must entertain
Confusion, cripples, tigers, thunder, pain.