I love looking at life, nature, and reality through different lenses from time to time. If you pick an idea, a “meta-concept,” to look through, you can be amazed at the colors it brings out all around you. For example, irony and paradox are good meta-concepts. David Wright, a Fellow at the CIRCE Institute, spoke on these ideas this past February at the (St. John) Climacus Conference in Louisville, KY. Here’s an excerpt from his opening remarks.
“Paradox just may be the key to reality. And that, of course, is itself a paradox. Let me define a couple of terms here. A paradox is an apparent contradiction – but when looked at or experienced more closely, we see that it’s not a contradiction. Irony is a discrepancy. Irony is when words say one thing but mean another, when the audience knows more than the character knows. The paradox is God; the irony is us. Paradox contains no discrepancy; irony does. But notice how close the two of them are together. They seem to be separated by the thinest line, yet at the same time they’re two worlds apart. For example, irony is everywhere around us. We seem to create it, then live in it — but then avoid it or deny it or doubt it.
For example, the more conscious we become of our consumption, which we have in the last thirty years or so, the more we have consumed. The more money we make, the more we spend, actually making our finances less stable. The more available time, the more wasted time. The more we hold on to things, the less we retain. The more ‘me’ we do, … the less of ‘me’ that we get. The more we feed the body and its passions, the less pleasure and fulfillment we receive from the body. Over-stimulate the senses, and they sense less. The more we judge, the more we condemn ourselves. What lies just over that thin line of love that we have for our spouses or friends? What lies just next to that line? Anger and hatred. The more knowledge we gain, of course, the less wise we become often times. The more we know, the bigger the ego becomes. … The fact that all scripture and the Law hangs on two simple commandments – to love God and to love others as yourself – is the apex of irony. It’s a paradox that all we need to do is love, and that’s the last thing that we need to do. And finally for these examples, it’s paradoxical that we come to know God more deeply when we suffer, when we have trails.
In the words of St. John [Climacus], ‘There is only one false turning: self-direction. And if that is avoided, even in matters seemingly good, spiritual, and pleasing to God, then straightaway one has reached the journey’s end. For the fact is that obedience is self-mistrust, up to one’s dying day in every matter – even the good.’ Is that paradoxical irony or what? … So my calling then this morning was simply to call this conference out to recognize it for its ironic potential. So if you see any of these speakers but miss the truth, then we’ve created irony. If this is about the good life, the enlightened life, then it will be long forgotten and turn into nothing. And if we leave here and cannot love, then we have failed. What would St. John think of this conference if he were here physically today? I think he may say something to this effect: … ‘If it has dispelled irony and embraced paradox, then it is good. For you see, the remembrance of death is what brings life. It is a polarity without duality, the resolution of all contraries. It is where we meet God, unknowable in his essence, knowable in his energies.’ “