Paradox and Hope

In the book The Hand of God there is a picture of the Molecular Cloud Bernard 86. The accompanying text tells us that what appears as a hole in the sky is now known as a dark molecular cloud or dark absorption nebula. Very possibly the birthplace of new stars, molecular clouds develop mysteriously and are considered to be some of the coldest and most isolated places in the universe.

As I reflect on that I am struck that what may appear isolated and cold—void of life and unwelcoming—is the birthplace of new stars. The paradox here is worth contemplating as one engages impasse.

Staying with powerlessness in the face of societal or ecclesial impasse is not an easy task. Our Western minds want to move toward fixing it; getting the strategy right; bringing closure to the problem as quickly as possible. But engaging impasse invites us to stay with it. To enter that which appears to be a hole—cold and uninviting—and stay there, contradicts everything within us. And yet, that is exactly what we must do in hope of the new birth.

Meister Eckhart teaches that we become free when, no longer wed to fears and constraints, we are in God’s presence “without a why or a wherefore.” Engaging impasse invites us to face our fears, our complicity in the impasse and to go deeply into understanding the whys that keeps us there.

Dorothy Soelle, in The Silent Cry, writes: “Remaining in inconsolability is a way of listening to “the silent cry.”…After a speech I had made an elderly man stood up: with passion-filled bitterness he spoke about the twenty years that has been wasted in the resistance against the nuclear enterprise, how illusion followed illusion and false promises only gave way to broken promises, how friendships and trust were destroyed. One defeat after another. Finally he said…..’The most difficult thing for me is to carry on carrying on in the face of a power that is unbroken and that couldn’t care less.’ I heard the “silent cry” more clearly in those words than elsewhere and saw more sharply the steadfastness in agony without which there can be no resistance. As Reinhold Schneider put it, ‘Our task would be to set the faith of powerlessness against the unfaith in power.’”

Perhaps engaging impasse allows us to experience the steadfastness in agony without which there can be no resistance. Engaging impasse communally in contemplation and dialogue changes one’s consciousness of the reality of impasse and prepares us to give birth to new ways of being and acting as we participate in the ongoing creation of the world.

Written by Nancy Sylvester, IHM

© 2003-2019 Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue
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Further Reading:
Reagan, Michael, ed. The Hand of God. Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 1999.
This book combines pictures of space from the Hubble telescope with inspirational quotations from scientists, poets, theologians, and philosophers. It is an incredible reflection on the cosmos.

Soelle, Dorothee. The Silent Cry—Mysticism and Resistance. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2001.
This is an excellent book for anyone who is trying to integrate contemplation and action. Soelle draws from her experience as well as from many world leaders in mysticism and non-violent resistance. She explores how the religious impulse of mysticism, the “silent cry” is at the heart of all the world’s religions. Soelle argues for the importance of mysticism in countering the destructive aspects of ego, group bias, materialism, and violence. Religion in the third millennium, Soelle argues, will either be mystical or it will be dead.

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