Home » Spiritual Direction » What We Can Know and Cannot Know

What We Can Know and Cannot Know

Night I had a terrible nightmare. I dreamed I lived in a house where a demon had been released. This demon had the power to prevent lights from being turned on and was able to drain batteries of their power. In the dream I sought out help from members of a ministerial alliance. Only those who had a liturgical tradition tried to help me. I woke up before I could learn what evil the demon had in store for me.

Last night, I had another horrible dream. I dreamt I was an aid to a powerful and corrupt individual who would reward me if I helped him with his devious plots and lies. Thankfully I woke up before I became to involved or accomplished the nefarious acts I had been assigned.

Dreams can be so strange.

Now why did I have such dreams? I am sure there are those who would be glad to tell me exactly what my dreams met. There was a time when I would have used my training and theoretical understanding of psychology to try and interpret my dreams. However, now, unless deeply moved by the Spirit, I just accept that I will have dreams, thoughts, questions and other cognitive blips that are the essence of mystery. Living with such mystery allows me not to worry about such things but instead trust in the providence of God.

As a certified spiritual director I have come to understand and accept a profound truth in helping seeks and myself in my relationship with the Lord. This truth is ultimately we can never fully know the mind of God.

You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it. (Ps. 139:3-6 NRS)

As I work with individuals who have the disability of dementia, I am often asked questions (and have questions) concerning issues that they, or I, have no control over and no rational way to explain. If I tried to answer or give an explanation I find it is completely inadequate and basically useless. I have found the individuals that I work with are much more satisfied with the answer. “I don’t know.” At least this answer puts me on a level of vulnerability with them.

The drive for certainty can be the most damaging path on our spiritual journey we can experience. It does not increase our faith and can be gateway to pride and spiritual ignorance as well as toxic to experiencing God. I am being taught by people with the disability of dementia that the power of simply trusting in spite of barriers to cognition opens one up to greater assurance and peace in the presence of mystery than any other path we can take. People with dementia my not remember their name, or God’s name, but they do remember feelings. They can experience love. They embrace true compassion and responded to positive relationships not on the basis of certainty but on patient presence.

Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. (Isa. 55:6-8 NRS)

I cherish the above passage of Scripture. I cherish it not because I can understand it but because I can experience it. I know it is true not through certainty but through trust and experienced assurance.

The disability of dementia is a difficult path. One forgets things we take for granted we will always remember. Perhaps this is why it is such a feared diagnosis to receive. Yet, while those with this disability my forget those they love they will not forget that they love. Event though they may forget their own name the will not forget forget that they are and even though they will forget God they will not forget the feelings God has given them.

The following statement comes from the late William A. Berry, SJ and is a reminder that God also accepts the mystery God has asked us to accept. I hope this will give you something to think about.

The very fact that the Spirit is the least mentioned Person of God indicates God’s willingness to become the forgotten One in order to move us to become the human beings and the human community God creates us to be. God’s self-revelation is all of a piece. God is the compassionate One who abases self in order to win us over to friendship.*

*William A. Barry. A Friendship Like No Other: Experiencing God’s Amazing Embrace (Kindle Locations 1236-1238). Kindle Edition.

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