The Spirit Road- Knowing We’re Known

There aren’t many things I know for certain.  I know I’ll be tired after three days with my grandchildren.  I know I enjoy margaritas.  I know I like to fish with my buddy in Canada.  But knowing all that isn’t really knowing very much.  If you ask me questions on a larger scale, like do I know for sure what I’ll be doing tomorrow, I have to say no.  I know what I think I’ll be doing tomorrow, but I can’t be sure.  A jet engine might do a Donnie Darko through my roof, or the approaching car collide with me head on, or my heart decide to really quit this time.  You never know until that time comes, and in between you do your best to maintain a routine.  Routines give us the illusion of certainty.

Let’s be honest; the most mundane things in our lives are unpredictable.  I’ve known people who prayed for bowel movements.  And when even the ordinary stuff is unpredictable, then any logic to life is unknowable.  I may like to catch fish, but I don’t know that I will, and the bigger the questions get, the more unsure the answers become.  Do I know for certain the meaning of life?  No, not even close.  What is meaningful today will be different tomorrow, just as what meant a lot forty years ago means little today.  Why does the universe exist?  There is no verifiable answer.  We can count the stars in the sky, and quantify their total mass, but we don’t know if they serve any purpose.  We merely hope they do.

Things don’t get better if we decide to go smaller.  Do I know how atoms interact to create the solid surface of my desk, or the metal housing for my photon emitter?  Not really.  Do I know how an elemental pulsating string, equal in size to 1.616199(97)×10−35 meters, forms the basis of the universe?  Nobody does.

The truth is that we don’t know much.  We try to enjoy, as best we can, a world that is mystifying most of the time, and capricious all of the time.  As Descartes suggested, “I think, therefore I am” is about as far as we can go, and what else are you going to do?  I’ll join you at the bar

There is an essential ignorance that characterizes human consciousness; we are not gods.  In biblical parlance, we don’t know shit, and life goes better when we admit it.  Few things are more dangerous than someone who believes they know more than they do.  They tend to fall in holes and lead others there, too.  Conversely, an appreciation for what we don’t know is always a good place to begin any venture.  It prevents a lot of misconceptions and false assumptions.

For those who are interested in spiritual endeavors, an appreciation for what you don’t know is where the journey begins.  The goal in a spiritual quest is never apparent to people who think they know what it is.  Spiritual discoveries tend to sneak up on you, occurring at inexplicable times, and often at your most vulnerable moments, which are also your most unplanned.  The big ones take you down like a blindside hit, something you didn’t see coming, and simply prove how little we know.  As Jesus said, the spirit comes and goes like the wind; it’s best to be prepared for anything.

In some ways, spirituality is nothing but an exploration of ignorance.  You can’t know God except as a creature.  Pretending to be more simply obscures what you’re attempting to find.  You can’t hear the voice of God until you learn to recognize your own, with all your limitations, quirks, secrets, and flaws.  Otherwise, you confuse your own thought processes with those of God, as if God thinks like you.  It’s amazing how many petty things God is said to dislike, and how many biases God is said to approve.  Spiritually, it’s a form of pride, and the most common mistake people make.

The confusion is based in not appreciating the basic confines of our situation.  Physicists estimate there are 10^10^16 alternate universes, and we can’t fathom this one.  Let go of your pretenses about knowing the source.  We can’t know God, any more than we can understand everything that happens to us.  The great difficulty of spiritual seeking is the eternal mystery at its core.

According to the Christian mystic, Thomas Merton, we may not be able to know God, but we can have the next best thing—we can know that we are known.  I can’t think of a better description.  Mysterious doesn’t mean impersonal; the sacred fire made Moses take off his shoes, and engaged him in arguments.  The love ascribed to God is rooted in that everyday sense of incomprehensible intimacy.

We can’t know God.  But we can know that we’re known, which is just as exciting a mystery.

About Bucky Dann

I teach religion, sociology, and psychology at Southwestern Community College in the Smoky Mountains. I have worked in the United Methodist ministry and in the substance abuse field. I possess a Masters of Divinity, a Masters of Philosophy, and a PhD in the sociology of knowledge.

2 Responses to “The Spirit Road- Knowing We’re Known”

  1. “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” -Socrates

  2. A journey into your own spirituality can’t be coupled with pride, unless you have stopped searching and are using your spirituality to hide behind. Spirituality and pride together make a front to stand behind. The people that I have known that stay behind pride don’t look for new growth, they think that they are finished. Spiritual growth never stops. Pride is a wall that stands in front of stepping out of your own mind. There is no pride in loneliness; a journey into spirituality is personal and solemn. A soul’s journey is not always comfortable. Mine have been painful and uncertain. I sometimes feel like the more that I learn, the less I really know. Although I keep searching, sometimes I feel less close to God than others. Often I feel that I don’t know God at all. It’s like being too close to the trees to see the forest; I get so focused on details that I ignore the overall big picture. God has been in the same place that I left him. The best part about feeling lost is finding that you weren’t really lost at all. I do find comfort in knowing that God knew where I was the whole time. He didn’t lose me!

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