The Religious Value of the Unknown
From the Emergence Magazine Podcast
Emergence Magazine is a quarterly online publication exploring the threads connecting ecology, culture, and spirituality. As we experience the desecration of our lands and waters, the extinguishing of species, and a loss of sacred connection to the Earth, we look to emerging stories. Each issue explores a theme through innovative digital media, as well as the written and spoken word. The Emergence Magazine podcast features exclusive interviews, narrated essays, stories, and more.
In an age when the fate of the world is frightfully unknown, George Prochnik, author of In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise, makes a case for uncertainty as a form of faith and hope. If we unravel our desire for the all-knowing, he says, we can enter into a sanctuary of mystery, in which “I do not know” becomes a statement of hope.
From the episode:
We long for certainty. Society ingrains the wish, and our fear of its not being answered can feed upon itself until the ground beneath our feet dissolves. Religious faith rushes in to fill that yearning, like water descending a sheer incline, until all emptiness is gone and some final equilibrium is reached. Insecurity plays the role of gravity in the realm of spirituality, drawing us toward belief, the promise of a haven where that force no longer operates: free fall replaced by an encompassing embrace.
In the absence of that certainty, where are we? The questions keep proliferating once they start. What will happen to us when we can no longer live where we are now? Perhaps we had no real place here to begin with, or if we once did then something’s changed. What will we do next? And what will happen when that next respite ends? We’re becoming less and less sure about the prospect of employment. Our bank accounts are dwindling. And the disease we might or might not have? And the unfinished work on which we staked so much? And the possibility of war? And the eyes of that poor stranger? And the rising, ever rising seas, and fires and flames and burning rage? Good Lord, all the suffering beyond our own horizons—how will that ever be assuaged? What will happen to the children, the parents, their lost friends, the millions suffering at this moment in ways that overwhelm our powers of imagining?
How can we get out of bed in the morning given everything we’re supposed to do and can’t find energy or focus even to begin? What happens if we do wrench out of bed precisely when we’re supposed to and find ourselves sitting down once more staring dully at our coolly glowing screens, like at the inside of a refrigerator that contains nothing which can actually be eaten—a refrigerator we know will never be stocked simply by staring at the vacancy, and yet we can’t bear to tear our eyes away from it because then even the illusion of fullness won’t be there, and we’ll have to gaze once more into a vortex of unmanageable demands, until the two states conflate: All the obligations we don’t know how to meet, and the empty tracts of time we don’t know how to fill. Lovers. Lovers we don’t have. Enemies, bosses, and the people from the bank—along with our wrath-engorged Contaminator-in-Chief, and the greater globe in which each problem we reflect on seems bigger than the one that came before, until finally we come back around to our own tiny plot and find we have no idea what to do about anything, let alone the everything we’re somehow meant to face.
Give us God in whatever form She, He, It, or They consents to assume, so long as that transcendent something supplies us with an answer we can curl up around close enough to breathe ourselves to peace, or anyway to sleep.
Lord give us this night our daily certainty.
Say it. Say it. Now repeat.