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Unknowing: Weekly Summary

Unknowing

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Week Five Summary and Practice

Sunday, January 31—Friday, February 5, 2021

Sunday
The formal theological terms for unknowing and knowing are the apophatic or “negative” way, where you move beyond words and images into silence, and the kataphatic or “affirmative” way, where you use words, concepts, and images.

Monday
Perplexity, I realized, was working like an X-ray of my soul, exposing much of my so-called spirituality as a vanity project of my ego, an expression of my arrogant desire to always be right, my desperate and fearful need to always be in control, my unexamined drive to tame the wildness of life by naming it and dominating it with words. —Brian McLaren

Tuesday
You actually need this purgation and unknowing to prepare you for a new depth of living, knowing, and loving. —Brian McLaren

Wednesday
Creativity flourishes not in certainty but in questions. Growth germinates not in tent dwelling but in upheaval. Yet the seduction is always security rather than venturing, instant knowing rather than deliberate waiting. —Sue Monk Kidd

Thursday
John of the Cross says that the dark night is God’s best gift to you, intended for your liberation. —Barbara Brown Taylor

Friday
I entered into unknowing / Yet when I saw myself there / Without knowing where I was / I understood great things; / I shall not say what I felt / For I remained in unknowing / Transcending all knowledge. —St. John of the Cross

 

The YHWH Prayer

You shall not take the name of God in vain. (Exodus 20:7)

Many Christians think the second commandment is a prohibition against swearing. But I believe the real meaning of speaking the name of God “in vain” is to speak God’s name casually or trivially, with a false presumption of understanding the Mystery—as if we knew what we were talking about!

Many Jewish people concluded that the name of God should not be spoken at all. The Sacred Tetragrammaton, YHWH, was not even to be pronounced with the lips! In fact, vocalizing the four consonants does not involve closing the mouth. A rabbi taught me that God’s name was not pronounceable but only breathable: YH on the captured in-breath, and WH on the offered out-breath!

We come from a very ancient, human-based, natural, biological, universally experienced understanding of God. God’s eternal mystery cannot be captured or controlled, but only received and shared as freely as the breath itself—the thing we have done since the moment we were born and will one day cease to do in this body. God is as available and accessible as our breath itself. Jesus breathes the Spirit into us as the very air of life (see John 20:22)! Our job is simply to both receive and give this life-breath. We cannot only inhale, and we cannot only exhale. We must breathe in and out, accept and let go.

Take several minutes to pause and breathe mindfully, surrendering to the mystery of wordless air, the sustainer of life. Part your lips; relax your jaw and tongue. Hear the air flow in and out of your body:

Inhale: YH
Exhale: WH

Let your breathing in and out, for the rest of your life, be your prayer to—and from—such a living and utterly shared God. You will not need to prove it to anybody else, nor can you. Just keep breathing with full consciousness and without resistance, and you will know what you need to know.

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2008), 129‒131.

Image credit: Ladder and Chair (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
Image inspiration: How do we look beyond what we think we already know? At first glance the shadow of chair and ladder may be confusing, but shapes and meaning begin to emerge upon a longer contemplation.
To learn more about Thomas Merton’s photography see: Pearson, Paul M, ed., Beholding Paradise: The Photographs of Thomas Merton (Paulist Press: 2020).
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