What “Holy Tension” Desires to Teach Us

Posted On March 3, 2022

Have you ever looked up and noticed both the sun and moon visible in opposite corners of the sky? In the morning, the sun’s blazing yellow hues light the day as the hazy moon fades from the horizon in a celestial yin-yang dance. At sunset, the brilliant moon arrives on the scene while the sun makes its journey below the horizon.



According to the article, “What Would We Do Without the Moon?,” the tension between the sun and moon provides perfect balance for the earth. The gravitational pull between the two keeps the planet from wobbling out of control. It also regulates ocean tides and creates a healthy environment for plants to grow.



Unholy Tension



Like the pull between the sun and moon, I often notice a subtle tension within myself.


It feels like an uneasiness within me. When I’m happy, I feel guilty for having too many material goods and not giving more time, talent, and treasure to others.


When I rub my dog’s tummy and she basks in my affection, the thought I should be doing something more constructive than playing twangs at me.


I live in a silly inner world as I struggle to be content within myself.



The Gift of Holy Tension



I’ve heard the tension between opposite feelings called “Holy Tension.” But it doesn’t feel holy to me. It feels like static electricity zapping AC-DC currents throughout my body.


I hoped this Holy Tension would go away; that at some point in my spiritual journey I would “arrive” and be wholly content.


But lately I’m learning it’s a gift. The Holy Tension we feel is something everyone experiences, whether we’re aware of it or not. And it invites us to see through the third eye of our hearts what the both/and of the opposite feelings we experience desire to teach us.



The Promise of Paradox



In his book, The Promise of Paradox—a Celebration of Contradictions in the Christian Life, Parker Palmer says we need to name the conflicting emotions in each of our life situations and then hold them without trying to reconcile them or push them away. Eventually, a third force—a deeper wisdom—arises that teaches us the life-lesson we’re invited to embrace.


Much like the sun and the moon, which provide balance between day and night, regulate ocean tides, and create the environment for plant life to emerge, our conflicting emotions provide rich soil to nourish our inner growth.

When we hold the subtle both/ands of life’s Holy Tensions and bring them to God, we create inner space in our hearts and minds to let in Divine Light. And, mysteriously, if we listen deeply and tend to our souls, the wisdom of paradox emerges.


The Holy Tension provides room for the grace of balance. It allows us to find wisdom amid the paradox, so we can lean into and discover the intricate way God has created the Universe through opposites that attract, sustain, and nurture wholeness.


With that understanding, we can name the opposites in ourselves to find the Inner Truth through which they create balance and wholeness.


If Holy Tension is indeed a gift that teaches us wisdom, instead of pushing our conflicting emotions away or drowning in them, we can follow Palmer’s insight, name the tensions we feel, and discover what wisdom they contain.


Here’s a few:


Nothing & Everything = God Within


Grounded & Drifting = Divine Presence in this Moment


Human & Divine = the Heart of Wholeness


Ordinary & Extraordinary = Divine Presence in Everything


Suffering & Joy = Compassion


Judging & Accepting = Unconditional Love


War & Peace = Love Wins


Rather than fighting the Holy Tensions within me, I’m learning to stop, notice, and name the emotions. Then, in my imagination, I hold one part of the tension in my left hand and the other in the right. I ask the Creator what Inner Truth these opposites are teaching me. As I open my heart to God’s wisdom, I discover the both/and of wholeness.




It’s not always easy to hold the tensions. Russia’s unprovoked assault on the people of Ukraine stirs outrage in me. In my left hand I hold the fear that evil may win. In my right hand I hold the courage of the Ukrainian people as the free world rallies around them. I don’t know how this war will end.

As I gaze at the crucifix on my den wall, I’m reminded somehow, in some way, love wins. Always.




I resolve not to lose hope. I ask the Creator,  “What’s the wisdom you are teaching me through this paradox?”


That’s the question, the invitation of this Holy Tension—a call to discern how I can pour more love into the world with my gifts and talents in response to this unfoly war.


Hold the paradoxes in your life. Ponder. Listen to what emerges. Let the Creator breathe wisdom into your soul.

 Discover what Holy Tension desires to teach you.



—brian j plachta



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Written by Brian J. Plachta

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