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Episode Summary

What unites the contemplative life with active life in your life? Theologian Sameer Yadav reflects on mysticism, activism, and wonder—drawing together the Cappadocian Father Gregory of Nyssa and the spiritual father of American Civil Rights Howard Thurman. Interview by Evan Rosa.

Which is greater: action or contemplation? Which is more excellent and therefore more central and determinative in human flourishing? A life of action—focused outward in service of humanity and exterior, public, practiced love? Or a life of contemplation—focused inward in reflection and meditation and communion with God, a private, interior castle of wisdom?

You might be quick to point out that it's a false dilemma and of course we need both. But this is quite an old conundrum in both the history of philosophy and the history of Christianity and it continues to find expression in contemporary life as we struggle with the idea of personal morality and social justice.

The world today is as broken a place as ever; individual people are as broken as ever—and what will heal us? Meditation and mindfulness and prayer? Or doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly?

If the answer is in fact both, what unites the contemplative life with active life in your life?

Today on the show, Sameer Yadav joins us for a conversation on mysticism, activism, and wonder. He explains the history of thinking about these jointly necessary elements of human flourishing, understanding the terms in relation to spirituality and contemporary activism, and drawing together two thinkers from different cultures and times: the Cappadocian Father Gregory of Nyssa and the spiritual father of the American Civil Rights movement, Howard Thurman. They share fascinating perspectives on what it means to be human, the need for cooperative caretaking as a reflection of God's relation to the world, and an attentiveness to wonder as a hinge between the contemplative and active life, with lasting implications for everything from interpersonal relationships, to democracy, to ecological care.

Production Notes

  • This podcast featured Sameer Yadav
  • Edited and Produced by Evan Rosa
  • Hosted by Evan Rosa
  • Production Assistance by Martin Chan & Nathan Jowers
  • A Production of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture at Yale Divinity School
  • Support For the Life of the World podcast by giving to the Yale Center for Faith & Culture:

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May 15, 2023

Tolerating Doubt & Ambiguity

Is your faith a house of cards? If you were wrong about one belief would the whole structure just collapse? If even one injury came to you, one instance of broken trust, would the whole castle fall? If one element was seemingly inconsistent or incompatible—would you burn down the house? This depiction of the psychology of faith is quite fragile. It falls over to even the lightest breath. But what would a flexible faith be? Resilient to even the heaviest gusts of life’s hurricanes. It would adapt and grow as a living, responsive faith. Psychologist Elizabeth Hall joins Evan Rosa to discuss the domains of psychology and theology and what it means for each to “stay in their lane”; she introduces a distinction between implicit and explicit knowledge, and identifies the social- and self-imposed pressure to know everything with certainty; we reflect on the recent trends toward deconversion from faith in light of these pressures; and she offers psychologically grounded guidance for approaching doubt and ambiguity in a secure relational context, seeking to make the unspoken or implicit doubts explicit. Rather than remaining perched upon our individualized, certainty-driven house-of-card faith; she lays out a way to inhabit a flexible, resilient, and relationally grounded faith, tolerant of ambiguity and adaptive and secure amidst all our winds of doubt. This episode was made possible in part by the generous support of Blueprint 1543. For more information, visit

Elizabeth Hall