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Embrace the Tension
Once a Week
The most memorable lesson from my college homiletics professor was his regular admonishment to “manage the tension”. A staple of all storytelling and speaking arts, good sermons build and then release tension. But there are contexts other than preaching where that is much more difficult. The counseling room, for example. When couples come for help, tension is already there, no skill or assembly required! But managing that tension, finding points of release, and even raising more therapeutically important tension, is indeed a necessary task. And one that I find regularly challenging.
The tendency to quickly resolve tension in favor of one pole or the other is a sign of left-brain dominance, an either/or approach that finds both/and thinking too uncomfortable. But as Parker Palmer advises, it’s more a matter of the heart than the head: “the place where paradoxes are held together is in the teacher’s heart, and our inability to hold them is less a failure of technique than a gap in our inner lives.”
Closing and healing that gap is not a matter of self-effort. When hope feels bleak for reconciliation between two people, two opposite poles of opinion and experience, or between our own internally divided selves, we should not turn to left-brain technique to quickly reduce the irreconcilable tensions. Rather, we will be able to embrace tension through the embrace of Christ, the God-man. Why? Because he reconciled the ultimate tensions between God and man, the infinite and finite, the holy and the sinful, in his incarnation, death and resurrection. “In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:19-20).
Quotation from Parker Palmer
The tension that comes when I try to hold a paradox together is not hell-bent on tearing me apart. Instead, it is a power that wants to pull my heart open to something larger than myself. The tension always feels difficult, sometimes destructive. But if I can collaborate with the work it is trying to do rather than resist it, the tension will not break my heart — it will make my heart larger.
Courage to Teach, by Parker Palmer
Ways of Attending: How Our Divided Brain Constructs the World, by Iain McGilchrist
Palmer also talks about “suffering the tension of opposites” and that “such suffering is neither to be avoided nor merely to be survived but must be actively embraced for the way it expands our own hearts.” How would that perspective shape how you face conflict and help others in conflict?
Praying for and laboring with you,