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Center for Action and Contemplation

Knowing and Not Knowing

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Wisdom’s Way of Knowing

Knowing and Not Knowing
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
(Orthodox New Year)

Over-explanation separates us from astonishment. –Eugene Ionesco

We need transformed people today, and not just people with answers. I do not want my too many words to separate you from astonishment or to provide you with a substitute for your own inner experience. We all need, forever, what Jesus described as “the beginner’s mind” of a curious child. A beginner’s mind or what some call “constantly renewed immediacy” is the best path for spiritual wisdom. Tobin Hart writes: “Instead of grasping for certainty, wisdom rides the question, lives the question…. When the quest for certainty and control is pushed to the background, the possibility of wonder returns. Wonder provides a gateway to wise insight” (Information to Transformation, p. 11).

Incorporating negative and self-critical thinking is essential to true prophetic understanding. At the same time, we must also trust that we are held irrevocably in the mystery of God’s love, without fully understanding it. Alongside all our knowing, accompanying every bit of our knowing, must be the humble “knowing that we do not know.” That’s why the great tradition of prayer is balanced by both kataphatic knowing, through images and words, and apophatic knowing, through silence, images, and beyond words. Apophatic knowing is the empty space around the words, allowing God to fill in all the gaps in an “unspeakable” way.

Strangely enough, this unknowing is a new kind of understanding. We have a word for it: faith, a kind of knowing that doesn’t need to know and yet doesn’t dismiss knowledge either; a kind of knowing that doesn’t need to hold everything itself because, at a deeper level, it knows it is being held. As Paul puts it, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

I hope that throughout this year I can somehow speak, if possible, both to your head and to your heart, and leave you in that in-between space, where you are not too much in control—and God can steer your ship with you.

Gateway to Silence:
May I love with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Adapted from Things Hidden: Scripture As Spirituality, pp. 7, 8, 19-20, 26;
and Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer, pp. 15-16

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