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Center for Action and Contemplation

Humble Knowing

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Father Richard Rohr begins this week’s meditations by emphasizing the importance of humility in our knowing, acknowledging all that we don’t know about God, Reality, and ourselves.

Ultimate Reality cannot be seen with any dual operation of the mind that eliminates the mysterious or confusing—anything scary, unfamiliar, or outside our comfort zone. Dualistic thinking is not naked presence to the Presence, but highly controlled and limited seeing. With such software, we cannot access infinity, God, grace, mercy, or love—the necessary and important things! Wouldn’t you join me in saying “I would not respect any God that I could figure out?” St. Augustine of Hippo (354–430) said the same: “If you understand it, then it is not God.” [1]

Jesus himself consistently honored and allowed Mystery. Many of Jesus’ sayings are so enigmatic and confusing that I am convinced that is why most Catholics simply avoid reading the Bible. If Jesus had been primarily concerned about perfect clarity from his side, and certain understanding from our side, he surely didn’t do very well as a communicator, even in his lifetime. Thankfully, Protestants insisted on reading and studying the Scriptures, but then became certain they had the one and only interpretation and ignored many of the others! This, even after Jesus so often (seven times in Matthew 13 alone) taught that Ultimate Reality (which he calls “the kingdom”) is always like something. He clearly offers simile and metaphor to invite further reflection and journey, not impose a single understanding.

Jesus largely communicates through parables, stories, aphorisms, and often deeply obscure riddles (such as “Many are called, but few are chosen,” Matthew 22:14). This discourse isn’t pleasing to systematic thinkers. If I had turned in papers as open to misunderstanding, false interpretation, and even heresy as most of Jesus’ teachings are, I would never have passed my theology courses. He couldn’t have been concerned about exact words, or he would have learned to speak Greek, instead of the philosophically imprecise and very different Aramaic!

Healthy religion is always humble about its own holiness and knowledge. It knows that it does not know. The true biblical notion of faith, which balances knowing with not knowing, is rather rare today, especially among many religious folks who think faith is being certain all the time—when the truth is the exact opposite. Anybody who really knows also knows that they don’t know at all.

We’ve got to constantly remind ourselves that we don’t know. The Buddhists call this stance “beginner’s mind.” Imagine how our politics and our churches could change if we had that kind of humility in our conversations. It just doesn’t seem possible anymore. Both politics and religion are filled with people clinging to certitudes on every side of every question. This makes civil and humane conversation largely impossible because there’s no humility. There’s no openness to mystery as being that which is always unfolding. Mystery is not that which is not understandable. Mystery is that which is endlessly understandable.

[1] Augustine, Sermon 117:5 (on John 1:1). Original text: “Si enim comprehendis, non est Deus.”

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2009), 74–75;

Just This (Albuquerque, NM: CAC Publishing, 2017),85–86; and

Following the Mystics through the Narrow Gate: Seeing God in All Things (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2010). Available as CD, DVD, and MP3 download.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Chaokun Wang, 夜 night (detail), 2017, photograph, China, Creative Commons. Unknown Author, Close-up of New Growth (detail), 1970, photograph, British Columbia, Public Domain. Chaokun Wang, 竹子 bamboo (detail), 2015, photograph, Heifei, Creative Commons. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge the image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: Moonlight, dewdrops, the overnight growth of bamboo. Nature reveals the great mystery of the Divine in the cycles and patterns of life.

Story from Our Community:

Where do I belong? Not with the rich and privileged, not with the very poor, not with the liberals and not with the conservatives, not with the intellectuals and successful [people], not with organized religion and social organizations, and not even with some family members. I belong in Christ’s arms, in the space of paradoxes, in the space of unknowing and in the cracks of suffering. This is where I am free to see God’s Glory and feel his loving touch of Grace; an open, humble heart.
—Kathy Jo W.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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