Delusions of Knowledge

When I look up at the stars, my response is wonder. When I watch a hummingbird hovering in the yard, I am fascinated. In neither case is my first instinct to analyze, label, figure things out.

Likewise, when I think about God, it isn’t to solve the Mystery, but to dwell in the Mystery, sit with it, let it wash over me. Not to try to pull it apart.

The mystery of creation is like the darkness of night–it is great. Delusions of knowledge are like the fog of the morning. – Rabindranath Tagore

Tagore is a writer who I have recently been drawn to more and more. He was the first non-European writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1913. His “Stray Birds” are several, rapid fire blasts of sunlight, glimpses of illumination that cut through the shadows of unchecked rational thought. The painting at the top of the page is Tagore’s as well.

I’ve been sitting with the idea of paradox a lot lately–the notion that two things taken together are seemingly impossible, but actually true. Like when physicists say that light is made up of (behaves like) waves and particles at the same time.

Science and scripture are full of paradoxes. How can Jesus be both a Lamb and a Lion; how are the worldly poor the spiritually rich? Why do you have to let go in order to have everything? Why is surrendering the only way to victory? Jesus loved paradoxes and deep thinkers like Einstein saw them everywhere.

Why is that? One reason might be that our intellect by itself is not the right faculty to get us to the deeper truths. It would be like trying to use smell or taste to figure out the tip when you get the check from dinner–could be interesting, but ultimately not helpful.

I am never more frustrated than when I try to have all the answers; when I want to have things figured out before I move forward. I am never more at peace than when I allow myself to be in the moment, to be happy with/by/from the things and people that make me happy. And it is still hard not to want to know that I am moving in the right direction, doing the right thing, moving further up the mountain rather than backpedaling.

“One of the great constants in life is change.” That was the doctrine of Heraclitus, a Pre-Socratic Greek philosopher. A paradox and a truth. And not new information.

How we deal with change, how we deal with the mind coming up just short of what it is we want to know, those responses to life are what our lives become. There are all kinds of options: we can doubt, fear, bury our head in the sand and not give it thought, we can lose ourselves in work, we can party like it’s 1999.

I go back to a favorite Thomas Merton thought:

You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith, and hope.

That feels right. So when I walk outside after the storm and through the boat yard to catch the last bit of sunset and see this…

2016 Sunset Owl

And I walk back to the house and hear an owl in the top of a tree and then watch he or she take off and fly with outspread wings, I smile and sit with Tagore’s words that have been in my head on a Sunday:

That I exist is a perpetual surprise which is life.


Author: Michael Valliant

I am a father, a writer, a runner, a hiker, reader, follower of Christ, a longboard skateboarder, stand-up paddleboarder, kayaker, novice birder, sunrise chaser, daily coffee drinker, occasional beer sipper. I live in Oxford on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where I am the Assistant for Adult Christian Education and Small Groups at Christ Church Easton by day. I am on a walk of faith, a spiritual adventure, following where God leads, sharing my story as it unfolds.

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