Friday, February 24, 2012

The Search for Knowledge

Truly, the Lord is waiting to show you grace.  ... Happy are those who wait for Him...  Then your Guide will no more be ignored, but your eyes will watch your Guide, and, whenever you deviate to the right or to the left, your ears will heed the command from behind you:  'This is the road; follow it!'   --  Isaiah 30:19b-21 (Jewish Study Bible)

May grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. ... For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love.   -- 2 Peter 1:2-3, 5-7 (NRSV)

I've been thinking a lot lately about knowledge.  A handful of people from our church were asked to prepare a small talk about their faith journey for one of the five Wednesday Lenten services coming up.  I was one of them.  So, I've been thinking about my faith journey, which has been driven by the search for knowledge, and fueled with the connections I find from reading great books and listening to what comes into my life -- and writing.  (I learn a great deal simply by writing out my thoughts.)

In all my 40+ years of going to church, I did not really know God, or myself, until eight years ago when I started to ask questions about what I believed.  Before that, I would say that I lived very unconsciously, very much unaware of the world around me, and God's presence in that world.  But once I started to think about my faith, and wonder about God, and Jesus, and Christianity, and other religions, and so on, I started to see God guiding my life. 

It took a while, but slowly I became aware that there were connections to my thoughts all around me:  in the things that happened in my life, in the books I read, in words spoken to me by a friend or stranger, or from a movie, or a song.  How could this happen, I wondered, unless my thoughts were heard?  And, who could hear my thoughts but God? 

I'm learning that I am far from alone in discovering this link between the search for knowledge and greater awareness.  Not only do Jews and Christians revel in this insight, but so do Islamic Sufis, pagan Greek philosophers, Tibetan Buddhists, and I'm sure, many others.

I started reading Eric Weiner's book, "Man Seeks God: My Flirtations with the Divine" --  a very funny, yet sincere, account of one man's explorations of eight religious sects in an effort to find "his God."

He begins with Sufism, the mystical sect of Islam.  Weiner learns from Sufi practitioners that, "Sufism is wisdom school.  All of reality is set up to prompt us to greater wisdom. ...Sufism is the instinctual search for truth."  He writes, "Sufi's see God everywhere.  They are not pantheists -- they don't believe that everything is God -- but they do believe there are traces of divinity all around us, if only we look carefully enough." (pgs. 24, 25, 32)  I agree:  if only we open our eyes to what is right in front of us.

Weiner next studies Tibetan Buddhism.   He learns that Buddhists improve their minds through meditation.  "Meditation is, as the late Tibetan lama Chogyam Trungpa said, 'a way of unmasking ourselves.' "   Weiner writes, that the word, "Buddha" means, "literally, 'the Awakened One,' or more colloquially, 'the Guy Who Woke Up.' ...Anyone can become that Guy Who Woke Up."  He is told to seek wisdom, first, and that love and compassion will "spontaneously arise from wisdom."  (pgs. 64, 65, 108, 109)  This advice almost mirrors the advice of Peter above. 

At this point, I got sidetracked from Weiner's book.  While browsing in the bookstore the other day, I noticed "Socrates" by Paul Johnson.  Socrates is the pagan philosopher who famously said, "The unexamined life is not worth living,."  I like him for that alone.  I read, surprisingly, that Socrates had a monotheistic understanding of God.  "It was precisely because he believed in God that he devoted his life to philosophy, which to him was about the human desire to carry out divine purposes." Socrates believed in a personal god, who communicated with him through a daemon, a spiritual voice, and that God gave him the mission to teach individuals how to become better morally, by asking questions (107, 108).  It seems that all the stars are aligning to tell me the same thing.

Seeing all these similar connections always lights a fire in me.  I am excited by the fact that all these diverse groups of people have come to essentially the same conclusion -- that the search for understanding, for wisdom, leads to a greater awareness of reality, which spurs one to greater goodness, all of which gives meaning to one's life.

Interestingly, I read at the end of Weiner's chapter on Buddhism, a quote from "The Way of the Bodhisattva":

                           Just like a blind man
                           Discovering a jewel in a heap of rubbish
                           Likewise, by some coincidence,
                           An Awakening Mind has been born within me

Weiner writes, "When coincidence works in our favor, unexpectedly, inexplicably, we can't help but feel blessed.  Christians call this grace.  Buddhists call this Suchness or, simply, the way things are." (pgs. 121-122) 

Dear Lord, thank you for guiding me to all these wonderful sources and allowing me to feel affirmed by these similar insights.  I am continually astounded at your care of me.  Love always, Pam


Doug said...

Nice blog, enjoyed it. 2 things popped into my mind during the reading. A grief therapist once used the term "fresh eyes" to help me work through some issues.......and work it did ! The other thing that popped into my fragile mind during the reading was one of my favorite hymns "open the eyes of my heart Lord, open the eyes of my heart......". The mind, the eyes, the heart, all connected. We see, we think, we feel. God is in all of that.

Pamela Keane said...

Thanks, Doug. I love that phrase, "the eyes of my heart"! And, also, "the ears of my heart".

marie said...

Hi, Pam,
I am still waiting for that book! In the meantime, I picked up The Butterfly Mosque at the library, which is a memoir of a woman raised atheist, and her journey to faith. I love to hear these stories. I love that song too, and another hymn, " Lord of all hopefulness." So beautiful. Keep writing, I am really enjoying it! -m

Pamela Keane said...

Hi Marie,
Thanks for the comment. But you need to refresh my memory... What book are you talking about?


marie said...

Sorry, Weiner's book, it is in high demand at our library. I keep trying to comment on here from my phone, so it is usually my second attempt and not always as clear. I will keep trying.