Wisdom – the practice of unknowing

Theme for May

Each month, our church gathers around a monthly theme and practice to guide our congregational life: worship, small groups, religious education, justice, and classes. Use these readings for reflection around the dinner table, in your own prayer practice, alone or with others.

Download 2016.5 Wisdom – the practice of unknowing packet


  • What sources do you draw from for wisdom?
    What wisdom have you gained through your life experience?
  • How have new ideas, perspectives, or experiences, challenged your previously held beliefs into a new way of knowing?
  • How have your questions, doubts or unknowing led you into deeper wisdom?



Knowledge is a process of piling up facts; wisdom lies in their simplification.
–       Martin H. Fischer


To know that you know what you know, and that you do not know what you do not know, that is true wisdom.
–       Confucious


As we acquire more knowledge, things do not become more comprehensible, but more mysterious.
–       William Durant


The value of the average conversation could be enormously improved by the constant use of four simple words: “I do not know.”
–       Andre Maurois


The only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing.
–       Socrates


As every parent knows, children begin life as uninhibited, unabashed explorers of the unknown. From the time we can walk and talk, we want to know what things are and how they work—we begin life as little scientists.
–       Brian Greene


Lend your ears to music, open your eyes to painting, and…stop thinking! Just ask yourself whether the work has enabled you to ‘walk about’ into a hitherto unknown world. If the answer is yes, what more do you want?
–       Wassily Kandinsky



It is the shortest walk of all that a man can imagine.
It is neither longer nor shorter
than an atom which is defined
…as the smallest division of time,
and it is so short…
it is indivisible and almost incomprehensible.
This is the time of which it is written:
“You will be asked how you
spent all the time
that has been given to you.”
–       from The Cloud of Unknowing


Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart
and try to love the questions themselves,
like locked rooms and like books
that are now written in a very foreign tongue.
Do not now seek the answers,
which cannot be given you
because you would not be able to live them.
And the point is, to live everything.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps you will then gradually,
without noticing it,
live along some distant day
into the answer.”
–    Rainer Maria Rilke


The tree of knowledge was the tree of reason.
That’s why the taste of it
drove us from Eden. That fruit
was meant to be dried and milled to a fine powder
for use a pinch at a time, a condiment.
God had probably planned to tell us later
about this new pleasure.
We stuffed our mouths full of it,
gorged on but and if and how and again
but, knowing no better.
It’s toxic in large quantities; fumes
swirled in our heads and around us
to form a dense cloud that hardened to steel,
a wall between us and God, Who was Paradise.
Not that God is unreasonable – but reason
in such excess was tyranny
and locked us into its own limits, a polished cell
reflecting our own faces. God lives
on the other side of that mirror,
but through the slit where the barrier doesn’t
quite touch ground, manages still
to squeeze in – as filtered light,
splinters of fire, a strain of music heard
then lost, then heard again.
–    Denis Levertov



Wisdom ceases to be wisdom when it becomes too proud to weep, too grave to laugh, and too self-full to seek other than itself.

Poetry is wisdom that enchants the heart.
Wisdom is poetry that sings in the mind.
If we could enchant man’s heart and at the same time sing in his mind,
Then in truth he would live in the shadow of God.
–    Kahlil Gibran


As human beings we are all capable of inquiry, of discovery, and this whole process is meditation. Meditation is inquiry into the very being of the meditator. You cannot meditate without self-knowledge, without being aware of the ways of your own mind, from the superficial responses to the most complex subtleties of thought. I am sure it is not really difficult to know, to be aware of oneself; but it is difficult for most of us because we are so afraid to inquire, to grope, to search out. Our fear is not of the unknown but of letting go of the known. It is only when the mind allows the known to fade away that there is complete freedom from the known, and only then is it possible for the new impulse to come into being.
–    J. Krishnamurti


The harvest of youth is achievement, the harvest of middle age is perspective, and the harvest of old age is wisdom.  Wisdom is a process, not an outcome. Wisdom grows with trust, clarity, and curiosity, and dwindles with control or attachments.

Nonattachment to outcome is central to real satisfaction and acceptance. Nothing suffocates the life force more thoroughly than trying to control what is happening. Rather than trying to assert control over relationships, health, work, or any other aspect of life where we do not trust, we need to know that in the situations that are important to us, we have planned and prepared well. That we can be open to possibilities and outcomes that we may not have contemplated.
–    From The Second Half of Life – Opening the Eight Gates of Wisdom by Angeles Arrien


As Abba Matoes affirms, “the closer a person comes to God, all the more do they see their self missing the mark.” If unknowing and uncertainty, humbly, embraced, lead to spiritual wisdom, it is, once more, in the negation (apophatic) language of apparent ambiguity and antiology—taking us even farther from the infecund constraints of fundamentalism—that the content of spiritual wisdom, the mystical theology [mystike theologia]….a paradoxical way…ways of knowing that move us beyond appearance (limited reality) to essence (God and ultimate reality)….What can be understood by normal cognition (fact, or what is knowable) and that which is understood through the paths of unknowing, uncertainty, and ambiguity (the meaning or experience of the unknowable) are bound together in the reality of apophaticism…
–    Excerpt from a blog writer named Thoughts Intrusive (seems to be from the Greek Orthodox church) on apophatic wisdom (knowledge of God obtained through negation)