Since I’ve been blogging, it has become my habit to think about my life in terms of short essays suitable for comment. Keeping my thoughts “bloggable” has become a kind of filter through which I have inadvertently subjected my thought life. A censor, if you will. While this often does help me give shape to the randomness that is my brain, it also keeps me thinking narrowly. And when I have problems, I find myself considering only solutions that will sound good in a blog.
It’s not blogging alone that has given me the illusion that I can solve every problem, climb every mountain, ford every stream, however. I’ve often believed that if can control my thoughts (what I know, how I know it), I can control my life.
This is why I haven’t been blogging lately. The issues swirling around my life aren’t ones with easy answers. And the path I seem to be taking to resolve these issues doesn’t necessarily feel right. Neither does the alternative.
In the complexity, I’ve been giving myself some freedom to think a little more broadly, to remember the mystery and unknowableness of life, to feel the weight of my mental and creative limitations. I’ve also spent some time thinking beyond the “known unknowables” to the “unknown unknowables,” to quote the outgoing secretary of defense. And the confusion and instability has frightened me. Thinking this way feels risky, doesn’t fit neatly into a blog, and had left me feeling at times as if getting out of bed is even too hard.
But I’m starting to grow comfortable with my ignorance again, because the unknown unknowables are unknown only to those of us walking around with skin on. However off track my uncertainty takes me, it’s still only my uncertainty. God is standing sure.
I believe I’ve found myself walking along what Wendell Berry calls the “way of ignorance.” He says, “Because ignorance is thus a part of our creaturely definition, we need an appropriate way: a way of ignorance, which is the way of neighborly love, kindness, caution, care, appropriate scale, thrift, good work, right livelihood.” In a word, the way of ignorance is humility.
Berry’s way reminds me of the ascent to the temple which the Israelites memorialized in the Psalms of Ascent (120-134). Approaching the wild, mysterious Yahweh brought an appropriate humility to the journey. I especially love Psalm 131, which Eugene Peterson says “prunes away our unruly ambition . . . what we might call getting too big for our britches.”
According to Peterson, in this Psalm, David is saying, “I will not try to run my own life or the lives of others, that is God’s business; I will not pretend to invent the meaning of the universe; I will accept what God has shown its meaning to be; I will not strut about demanding that I be treated as the center of my family or my neighborhood or my work, but seek to discover where I fit and do what I am good at. The soul, clamoring for attention and arrogantly parading its importance, is calmed and quieted so that it can be itself, truly.”
When I define myself this way (by all I don’t know in comparison to all God does know) I am knocked back down sufficiently to know that the “way of ignorance” that Berry describes — neighborly love, kindness, caution, care, appropriate scale, thrift, good work, right livelihood — are the best things I can do with my life. And that my foiled plans and feeble ideas were never going to work anyway.
A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson (chapter 13)
The Way of Ignorance and Other Essays by Wendell Berry