Reflections on the opportunity to experience ‘not knowing’ as a form of spiritual practice.

My head is bursting
with the joy of the unknown.
My heart is expanding a thousand fold.
Every cell,
taking wings,
flies about the world.
All seek separately
the many faces of my Beloved.
‑ Rumi

It’s an uncomfortable feeling, but it pushes us to seek a deeper understanding of the world around us. — Sara Gottlieb-Cohen

Articles on ‘not knowing’:

Questions to consider:

  • Does God learn? Can God be wrong, make mistakes, and change God’s mind?
  • Can God be known?
  • Did Jesus ever show us that he reconsidered a situation, learned, and grew to know more?
  • How do you handle the tension of ‘not knowing’?
  • What opportunities does doubt, uncertainty, or not-knowing offer?
  • When have you admitted, or responded to a situation, by saying “I don’t know?” What happened?
  • How could ‘not knowing’ become a prayer?
  • What don’t you know?

I don’t know why life isn’t constructed to be seamless and safe, why we make such glaring mistakes, things fall so short of our expectations, and our hearts get broken and out kids do scary things and our parents get old and don’t always remember to put pants on before they go out for a stroll. I don’t know why it’s not more like it is in the movies, why things don’t come out neatly and lessons can’t be learned when you’re in the mood for learning them, why love and grace often come in such motley packaging. — Anne Lamott

I know you’ll ask me, “How can I think on God as God, and who is God?” and I can only answer, “I don’t know.” Your question takes me into the very darkness and cloud of unknowing that I want you to enter. We can know so many things. Through God’s grace, our minds can explore, understand, and reflect on creation and even on God’s own works [as we should!], but we can’t think our way to God. That’s why I’m willing to abandon everything I know, to love the one thing I cannot think. [God] can be loved, but not thought. [John of the Cross and many other mystics say the same thing. We could have saved ourselves so much fighting and division if we had just taught this one truth!] By love, God can be embraced and held, but not by thinking. It is good sometimes to meditate on God’s amazing love as part of illumination and contemplation, but true contemplative work is something entirely different. Even meditating on God’s love must be put down [let go of] and covered with a cloud of forgetting. Show your determination next. Let that joyful stirring of love make you resolute, and in its enthusiasm bravely step over meditation [cognitive reflection] and reach up to penetrate the darkness above you. Then beat on that thick cloud of unknowing with the sharp arrow of longing and never stop loving, no matter what comes your way. . . . — Richard Rohr

When we find ourselves immersed in struggle, we find ourselves trafficking in more than the superficial, more than the mundane. That’s why maturity has very little to do with age. That’s why wisdom has more to do with experience that it does with education. We begin to feel in ways we could never feel before the struggle began. … After we ourselves know struggle, we begin to weigh one value against another, to choose between them and the future, rather than simply the present, as our measure. Some things, often quite common things, we come to realize—peace, security, love—are infinitely better than the great things —the money, the position, the fame—that we once wanted for ourselves. Then we begin to make different kinds of decisions. — Joan Chittister

Not Knowing

Who would set a limit to the mind of man? Who would dare assert that we know all there is to be known? — Galileo Galilei

Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is! — Anne Frank

I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did. I said I didn’t know. — Mark Twain

Twasn’t me, ’twas the Lord! I always told Him, ‘I trust to you. I don’t know where to go or what to do, but I expect You to lead me,’ an’ He always did. — Harriet Tubman
 
You can’t be afraid to fail. It’s the only way you succeed – you’re not gonna succeed all the time, and I know that. — LeBron James
 
Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care. — Theodore Roosevelt

I don’t know. ― Jack Kerouac
 
You never know when a moment and a few sincere words can have an impact on a life. — Zig Ziglar

The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing. — Socrates

I know nothing, except the fact of my ignorance. — Diogenes
 
Luck? I don’t know anything about luck. I’ve never banked on it and I’m afraid of people who do. Luck to me is something else: Hard work – and realizing what is opportunity and what isn’t. — Lucille Ball

Be happy with being you. Love your flaws. Own your quirks. And know that you are just as perfect as anyone else, exactly as you are. — Ariana Grande

Part of the issue of achievement is to be able to set realistic goals, but that’s one of the hardest things to do because you don’t always know exactly where you’re going, and you shouldn’t. — George Lucas

If you don’t know where you make your mistakes, that’s your worst mistake: not knowing where your mistakes are at. — Meek Mill

How can people change their minds about us if they don’t know who we are? — Harvey Milk

What I’ve come to know is that in life, it’s not always the questions we ask, but rather our ability to hear the answers that truly enriches our understanding. Never, never stop learning. — Lester Holt

We still do not know one thousandth of one percent of what nature has revealed to us. — Albert Einstein

Knowledge is knowing that we cannot know. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

To know yet to think that one does not know is best; Not to know yet to think that one knows will lead to difficulty. — Lao Tzu

It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so. — Will Rogers

How You Know— Joe Mills
How do you know if it’s love?
she asks, and I think if you have to ask, it’s not,
but I know this won’t help.
I want to say you’re too young to worry about it,
as if she has questions about Medicare or social security,
but this won’t help either.
“You’ll just know” is a lie,
and one truth, “when you still want to be with them the next morning,”
would involve too many follow-up questions.
The difficulty with love, I want to say,
is sometimes you only know afterwards
that it’s arrived or left.
Love is the elephant and
we are the blind mice unable to understand the whole.
I want to say love is this desire to help
even when I know I can’t,
just as I couldn’t explain electricity, stars,
the color of the sky, baldness, tornadoes,
fingernails, coconuts, or the other things
she has asked about over the years,
all those phenomena whose daily existence
seems miraculous. Instead I shake my head.
I don’t even know how to match my socks.
Go ask your mother. She laughs and says,
I did. Mom told me to come and ask you.

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