In Paradox There Is Virtue

Ronald Rolheiser
Reproduced with Permission

There are a number of old axioms that suggest that virtue and truth lie in the middle, between the two extremes. This was called the “golden mean” and expressed in phrases such as “In medio stat virtus” and “Aurea mediocritas”.

But its meaning can easily be misunderstood and suggest that virtue and truth are found in the lowest common denominator, in mediocrity. Indeed that’s the literal translation of aurea mediocritas, golden mediocrity.

What these axioms actually point to however is not some mediocrity that tries to avoid the raw edges of the two extremes by staking out some emaciated center. Rather they tell us that virtue and truth lie in paradox, in carrying the truth of both sides and living inside the tension of that ambiguity. Virtue and truth are not found by choosing “either/or” or in opting for some insipid middle that hasn’t the salt to offend either side. Virtue and truth lie in living out “‘both/and”, namely, in carrying and balancing out the truth that is contained in both extremes.

And nowhere is this truer than in religious discernment, that is, in the question of how we recognize God’s voice in our lives. Does God speak in whispers or in thunder? Does God speak in pain or in blessing? Does God call us out of this world or more deeply into it? Does God call us through what is comfortable and familiar or does God call us into foreign lands? Does God disturb or soothe us? Is God recognized in miracles or in helplessness? Does God speak through the rich or through the poor, through the educated or the uneducated? Does God’s voice frighten us or rid us of fear? Is God’s voice heard more through piety or iconoclasm? Does God ask us to renounce the pleasures of this world or does God ask us to enjoy them

God’s voice is in all of these things. It is heard in paradox:

Of course to accept this is also to accept living with ambiguity, complexity, unknowing, and a whole lot of patience. God’s voice will then no longer be as clear as our fundamentalist instinct would like, but it will be free both to soothe and challenge us as never before.