Sometimes I’m a slow learner. My “fortress and beacon” analogy (see yesterday’s post) emerged out an email correspondence I’m having with a Catholic laywoman who is feeling called to the contemplative life, but also feels the tension with mainstream Catholics who are afraid of, or hostile to, contemplative and centering prayer, because of their alleged new age or eastern mystical characteristics (as I’ve said repeatedly on this blog, I think such fears/hostility are groundless and based on misunderstandings, largely because of the fortress mentality).
So I came up with the fortress and the beacon as a way of unpacking how the church can be understood and experienced in different ways, as I wrote yesterday. My “duh!” experience came this morning when I realized that I have written about this tension previously: when I’ve explored what it means to be holy. As I’ve said in previous posts, holiness can take two forms: the quest for purity, and the quest for true hospitality. Purity is all about freedom from sin, complete submission to Divine Love, uncompromising commitment to upholding traditional church teachings. Hospitality is all about welcoming the stranger, caring for those who are wounded, broken, messy, and imperfect, and opening our doors and our hearts to whomever God sends our way, welcoming everyone — everyone — as if they were Christ himself.
Isn’t it obvious: holiness as purity is linked to the desire to enforce strong boundaries: the “mighty fortress” dimension of faith. Holiness as hospitality is linked to the desire to share God’s lavish love with everyone: the “luminous light” dimension of faith.
I believe in the universal call to holiness, which suggests that each of us are called to both purity and hospitality. We’re all called to embrace and uphold the healthy boundaries of our identity, and likewise and simultaneously to open those boundaries in the service of love. It’s a tricky calling. The fortress and the beacon subvert each other, and yet they need each other. Without the light, the fortress becomes so self-contained that it dies. But without the fortress, the light would soon be lost. It’s a tension we all have to live with, and figure out how best to play it out in our own lives.
Welcome to the contemplative life.