~How Do We Know?~
“The heavens are telling the glory of God… Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.” ~Psalm 19:2
Dear Members and Friends,
Many years ago, late on a Friday night at college, I was wakened by a street preacher, shouting in the courtyard. Now, admittedly, I did go to a so-called “Christian” college, whatever that means. In retrospect, it mostly means that I’m still paying off unnecessary student debt that a state school could have spared me. At the time, it meant that my faraway parents got to live with the happy illusion that I spent my weekends in Bible study and prayer. It also meant mandatory weekly chapel services. But other than that, we did all the stuff that college kids do. (We even learned about evolution!) One thing that a Christian college did not mean was being wakened in the night with preaching. But on this particular night, a voice pierced our dreams like John the Baptist in the wilderness. And it was one of the worst sermons I’ve ever heard. The preacher shouted, “Do you know-that-you-know-that-you-know-that-you-know…?” He must have said “know-that-you-know” ten times. I don’t even remember how he finished his inane question. Did we know that we knew what? Calls for certainty rarely sound like faith to me, and they’re definitely not worth wakening anyone from sleep. It turned out that the night preacher was a drunken student. He later confessed to me that his impromptu midnight sermon was entirely motivated by self-hatred—which I hope is not the place most preaching comes from! And yet, for all the pointlessness of his sermon, I remember it better than most I’ve heard. Maybe because he was talking about knowledge. “Do you know that you know?” Heck, no! Most of the time we don’t even know what we don’t know. How do we know that a thing is true—anything? How do we know that there’s a God? How do we know that prayer makes a difference? How do we know that church is anything more than an elaborate waste of time and energy? Ours is a congregation that loves knowledge, in a society that values knowledge. Many years ago, a committee of the fledgling Bower Hill congregation decided to adorn the ends of our pews with three words that seemed important to them. They could have picked any three words they liked. They could have chosen the classic triad of “hope, faith, and love.” But instead they aptly choose three words that still reflect the unique values of our congregation: “worship, service, and knowledge.” Knowledge! What is it, and why do we crave it so profoundly? Knowledge gets confused with factual information. But don’t you think there are many ways to know a thing? Sometimes we just know when to keep silence, when to smile, when to look away. Sometimes we just know that everything is going to be okay—despite all evidence to the contrary. Most of us know an Easter lily, but not by its unique “racemes” and “umbels.” We know it by its fragrance and its beauty. There’s scientific and informational knowledge, to be sure. But there are other kinds of knowledge, too. There’s a wisdom that comes from outside of us, or from a place so deep that we cannot begin to sound it. Consider all the many other forms of knowledge that guide us through our years! There’s spatial, and aesthetic, and verbal wisdom! There’s empathic knowledge, and kinesthetic, and mathematical, and spiritual, and instinctual! Sometimes when our logical knowledge falls flat, we still know a thing to be true with all our hearts. For John Calvin, the beginning and the end of faith is to know God and to know ourselves. But knowledge comes in many forms. Our ears and noses can apprehend God as well as our cerebrums, perhaps better! In a world of racist church shootings, and greed, and fear, how do you know that life is good, that love is real, that dreams are worth pursuing? You can know it in the beauty of this summer season, in the changing of the rainy light, in the sweet darkness of the night. You can know it in the gentle touch of a lifelong friend, a stranger’s kindly tone, the trusting eyes of a pet. There’s knowledge that is logic, and there is knowledge that is not. Sometimes you just know.
In Christ’s Peace,