Monday, February 28, 2011

I Don't Know

The last sermon I preached while the settled preacher in Yarmouth, Maine was titled, "Everything I've Said Was Wrong."  In this sermon I looked back over eleven years of preaching and tried to show how every single thing I'd said from that pulpit was as wrong as it had ever been right; that the words we use to describe the ineffible are, by the nature of the task itself, going to be short of the mark.

I was really proud of that sermon -- proud of the intellectual and spiritual humility I believed it demonstrated, proud to see those words on the sign board out in front of the church as if they summed up my ministry.  And, in a sense, they did, although I'll confess that I put a lot of thought into the sermon that showed that my thoughts had been wrong, and the idea of being proud of your humility is a bit of a head scratcher.

This morning my friend James Ishmael Ford -- who is both a Unitarian Universalist minister and a Zen priest and teacher -- wrote a really fantast piece on his blog.  In it he said,

"[D]on’t know.


For heaven’s sake don’t know.

It is the universal solvent to all human ills.

Doesn’t mean give up.

It means don’t know. Really don’t know, right down to the soles of your feet."
Now I know all about the Zen concept of "Don't Know Mind," and have always advocated it myself.  I think that that's partly what I was trying to point to and embrace in that sermon.  Yet I was reminded again this morning of this advice and saw more clearly than I have in a while just how hard it is to put into practice.

And I mean, I want to be clear, how hard it is for me to put into practice.  I can remember the summer I first learned to juggle.  Or, to be more precise, the summer I was first taught to juggle.  Now, in the years since I have used exactly the same technique to teach a couple of thousand people how to do the basic three-ball cascade that is the foundation of most juggling.  I can teach you in an hour and, if you practice for fifteen minutes each day, you'll be juggling solidly by the end of the week.  I can say this with some certainty because I've done it so often.

Yet that summer that my friend Donna Hunt tried to teach me I just couldn't get it.  No matter what, I couldn't pick it up.  Forget the one-hour lesson, she tried for days and weeks . . . nothing.

I've come to realize that at the camp where this was all taking place I had something of a reputation.  I was a magician and a clown.  Everyone assumed that something like this should come easy to me; that I'd be a natural.  And, so, for psychological reasons of my own, I developed a real block.  I didn't want to not-know how to do this and, so, I was unable to learn.

I've seen that in other situations in my life, too.  (And I've heard about it in the lives of many of the people I've talked with over the years.)  Not-knowing requires a willingness to be a beginner, to risk appearing less than.  If I don't-know, why would anybody want to listen to my sermons (or read my blog)?  If I don't-know, how will I demonstrate my worth (having grown up so valuing intellect and knowledge)?  If I don't-know, how will I gain status, or prestige, or respect, or . . .?

And yet, not-knowing is the only way to learn.  (Unless you embrace your not-knowing you'll never have any room inside for learning anything.)  And, truth be told, not-knowing is pretty much the real state of things anyway, just as not-in-control is.  (But that might be the subject of another blog sometime.)

So todayt I'm thankful for James' reminder of the importance of not-knowing, "right down to the soles of your feet."

In Gassho

RevWik Print this post

2 comments:

sheldon said...

I so enjoy the way you think, Eric.

RevWik said...

Thanks, Sheldon. (And, I can honestly say, "back at you.")