All the Things We Cannot Know

I have survived my second trip to Difficulty, Reader—and I didn’t get lost this time, for which I am damned proud of myself.  It’s amazing what any degree of familiarity will do for a person.  If you have been/are praying for me in this journey, thank you so very much; even if you haven’t, thank you for reading along, for supporting my rambling, for walking this with me in your own quiet way, for even just dropping by.

With this small success, this decidedly lower level of panic, comes the space to appreciate the city.  I still don’t particularly like it, but I can see that people live their lives there, bare their souls there, dream their dreams there.  I was soundly (and rightly) chastised by Interpreter this past week for forgetting what people bring to situations, for assuming that they are not doing enough without knowing what they’re doing elsewhere.  We were discussing my frustration with the Church at large and he reminded me that that many come to receive because they have nothing left to give—life has taken it all from them, and they can but whisper the prayer for God to fill them just enough to keep going.

I know this place.  Rather better than I’d like.  And in thinking of how I shouldn’t be so quick to judge others by my own standards and ideas, I’ve been very aware of these things I don’t know,  can’t know.  Even if they were to tell me their stories, I still wouldn’t know them they way they do.  I will feel the thick round stump and call it a tree because I have not seen the elephant.  In the abstract, it’s kind of lonely to realize that we can never know each other, who we truly are when the lights go out.

But we must try.

I tie these two concepts together, the conversation and the city, because I was glad to be able to note the people instead of simply hurry along yesterday.  Cities offer people-watching second only to shopping malls, and I hate malls far more.  Even though that many people wear me out, it’s still amazingly cool to see so many representations of height, hairstyle, clothing, ethnicity, personality; to hear a barrage of languages in a million snippets of conversation covering all the topics that make life a living process.  This people-watching was especially interesting for me in the light of this conversation about knowing; I will likely never know these people, their stories, their faiths, their places of refuge.

There was a woman in a smart black pantsuit in front of a glass-and-steel business building talking on a cell phone, slowly wiping away tears streaming down her face already red from the effort of crying, people flowing around her unheeding as the river.  There was a man waiting with me at a crosswalk who leaned against the light pole and whispered lightly to himself—a prayer?  I couldn’t catch the words—looking as weary as Atlas.  There was a young man in the train station as we waited for our half-hour-late ride home who was wearing a Seniors 2012 hoodie, nervously confronting this busy world within the comforting safety of his success and 80s-style headphones.

Would I tell any of them who they should be and what they should do?  Would I allow them to tell me?  Of course not.  So why then do I wrap myself around this plethora of standards, especially separating myself and others?  If you prick me, do I not bleed?  Don’t they?

My class in Difficulty continues to intellectually scare the hell out of me—surely these older, more educated people recognize me as an impostor,  an idiot in their midst.  But then I listen to my Italian classmate fight through this secondary language and get so frustrated that she can’t articulate these complex historiographical concepts in this double-jointed pack rat tongue, and I realize she is likely also worried that we won’t see her intelligence behind the barrier.  I hear myself speak and see that I have come so far in the last 10 years, academically and in many other ways (confidence not least among them).

I’ve always found it wryly hilarious that a fearful introvert like me has consistently been drawn to very people-oriented careers.  It is even more so now, no matter how I wish to understand this call to ministry.  But we, all of us, are called to this communion, this community, this frustrating mix of never understanding and constantly explaining.  God created 2 people in the beginning, Genesis tells us—I’m not interested here in the sexuality that is or isn’t in this passage, I’m interested in the fact that God did it because it was not good for man to be alone.  We were created such that we dive headfirst (side first?) into this relational mess, granting each other the room to recharge and grow—and the forgiveness to continue when we forget our differences and demand ourselves from each other.

People honk me off.  A lot.  They also frighten me, hurt me, and disappoint me.  Sometimes it is mine to call them on this, to hold them to account for their actions—as they hold me to mine.  But I must also remember how much I do not know, how much I have to wait for them to tell me, how much I have to be reminded that God is God, and I am not.


“Everyone who calls, ‘Help, God!’ gets help.’ But how can people call for help if they don’t know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven’t heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them? And how is anyone going to tell them, unless someone is sent to do it? That’s why Scripture exclaims, A sight to take your breath away! Grand processions of people telling all the good things of God! But not everybody is ready for this, ready to see and hear and act. Isaiah asked what we all ask at one time or another: ‘Does anyone care, God? Is anyone listening and believing a word of it?’ The point is, before you trust, you have to listen.”  (Romans 10:13-17a, MSG)

2 thoughts on “All the Things We Cannot Know

  1. It’s always fascinating to read your description of people or places I know. I’ve been to the city in question a number of times but it’s wonderful to read your vivid description of it. You bring out the “spiritual implications” of the place. And yet I can appreciate the pain that goes with it. Thank you for sharing that pain so poetically with us.


    • Many thanks, my friend. There is much joy in the city, as well, which I’m sure you’ve noticed; it just fascinates me that such extreme emotions go totally unheeded because everyone has somewhere else to be and all of our mothers taught us not to talk to strangers, even to make sure they’re alright. It is such an odd thing that the closer we are to each other, the deeper the space in between.


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