An attempt to translate “faith” into terms people without it may understand

January 4, 2012

Faith is largely simply the internal recognition that there are things I don’t know: I know that I don’t know.  I may notice myself through the process of cognitive thought (cogito ergo sum), but my understanding of what is beyond the borders of myself includes the recognition that I don’t have all of that in my head — I haven’t gathered all that information, much less processed it with my cognitive apparatus.  When I do take in a piece of that outer world, it’s only a piece, and no matter how large my capacity and ability as a human being, I will never possess in my understanding everything in the universe.

So, I personally can never know everything.  Faith begins with the idea, “I know that I don’t know [everything].”

It could well be the case that if we all pooled what we each know, we could approximate understanding the sum of what’s in the universe — I doubt it, but I can see how in theory that could be possible if we had enough human beings.

As it is, where I think a person goes after recognizing “I know that I don’t know everything” is “I’m not going to think and make decisions as if I do.”  Part of that next step is checking in with other people to get their perspectives.  Part of that is also doing my own part, what’s my legwork as a responsible person.  The third part of this next “step” is kind of analogous to leaving the door open for Elijah at a Passover seder:  just acknowledging by setting an empty place, so to speak, that there’s something else, something missing, like one of those energies or forces scientists discover that explain what they have been observing for years but didn’t reconcile with their calculations.

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So, the first aspect of faith is just being open to the idea that we don’t know something, that there’s always going to be something we personally don’t know.

Part of me would like to leave it at that for now, but it occurs to me that some people could take what I’ve said as dismal news when in fact it’s great news.  The great part of it is that because we personally don’t and can’t know everything, there is another component to our decision-making ability that supplies what we don’t know.  We leave the door open and we look for understanding of what comes in through that door.  It exists not in our visual range, so when it comes in, it may be evident like wind is evident to us from a curtain blowing or a piece of paper flying off the table.

When we perceive its presence through the secondary manifestation of its presence, then we try to translate into our usual discourse what it means.  Is that urge to go with a friend to her new martial arts class an indication that maybe it would serve me well to do something similar?  If I go with her, maybe I’ll find a flyer in the studio for someone helpful for web site design or house painting that I am needing, instead of finding martial arts something I feel moved to try myself.  We take this input we couldn’t come up with ourselves and figure out how it fits into our lives.

The process of fitting the input into our lives is vulnerable to our usual fears and desires, though, and we may also see how the new information may be helpful but refuse to act on it.  Usually we will get that pitch again, in the future, some other time and in a way we may feel more able to swing at.

Some pitches do require more fearlessness to hit, but there is nothing requiring us to hit them.  On the other hand, whether we swing and hit, swing and miss, don’t swing at all, or never enter the batter’s box has consequences.  One of the guidelines is not to take other people’s turns at bat or run the bases for them on the strength of their hit, or to let someone else do this with respect to our own turn or hit.  No designated hitters or base runners allowed, no matter how persuasive the argument or the offer.  And it helps to have the good grace to step out of the batter’s box and end our turn and take a seat in the audience so someone else can take a turn, if we realize we don’t want to swing or run the bases after all.

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