Recovering Our Balance

Unknowing: Week 1

Recovering Our Balance
Monday, October 1, 2018

Can you find out the depths of God? Or find out the perfection of the Almighty? It is higher than the heavens; so what can you do? It is deeper than Sheol; so what can you know?  It is longer than the earth and broader than the sea. —Job 11:7-9

The Bible, in its entirety, finds a balance between knowing and not-knowing, between using particular and carefully chosen words and having humility about words, even though the ensuing traditions have not often found that same balance. “Churchianity,” by its very definition, needs to speak with absolutes and certainties. It feels its job is to make absolute truth claims and feels very fragile when it cannot. Then, we followers think we must be certain about things we are not really certain of at all (which is the beginning of the loss of faith)! This is a similar predicament that politicians experience, needing to project an image of self-assurance and confidence, even though we all know they’re faking it just like the rest of us. As Marcus Borg (1942-2015) and others suggest in The Emerging Christian Way, absolute correctness is the largely impossible task institutional Christianity has taken upon itself. [1] Organized religion is now crumbling beneath this impossible and false goal, it seems to me.

I understand the individual ego’s and the institution’s structural need for clarity, some basic order, and identity, especially to get us started when we are young. Religion then needs a key to unlock itself from itself—but from the inside, which many call the mystical or contemplative tradition. Most successful reforms come from using one’s own internal resources to self-correct. The words “mystery,” “mystical,” and “mutter” all come from the Indo-European root word muein, which means to “hush or close the lips.” We must start with humble, patient, wordless unknowing, sincere curiosity, or what many call “beginner’s mind.” Only then are we truly teachable. Otherwise, we only hear whatever confirms our present understanding.

Without such humility, religion has cried “wolf” too many times in history and later been proven wrong. Observe earlier authoritative Church statements on democracy, war, torture, slavery, women, treatment of Jews, revolutions, liturgical forms, the “Doctrine of Discovery” of the New World, the Latin language, and the earth-centered universe—to name just a few big ones. If we had balanced our “knowing” with some honest not-knowing, we would never have made such egregious mistakes. We could always prove whatever we wanted by twisting one line of Scripture. The biblical text was not allowed to change us as much as many Christians have used it to exclude and judge other people.

References:
[1] See The Emerging Christian Way: Thoughts, Stories, and Wisdom for a Faith of Transformation, ed. Michael Schwartzentruber (CopperHouse: 2006).

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2008), 114.

Image credit: Philosopher in Meditation (detail), Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, 1632, Louvre Museum, Paris, France.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: If we are going to talk about light, then we must also talk about darkness, because they only have meaning in relation to one another. All things on earth are a mixture of darkness and light, and it is not good to pretend that they are totally separate! —Richard Rohr

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