Hi there. You’ve probably come here from either the Fear devotion or the Risk one. If you came from fear, then you might want to shape these reflections considering how easy it can be to get tempted to lock down on our beliefs when we feel threatened. If you’re coming here from Risk, you might take a different tack and consider how tough it can feel sometimes to stake a claim at all.
Over-embracing certainly can be like the fight response to threat: we eliminate the danger by mastering it with knowledge. Over-resisting certainty, on the other hand, can be like the flight response: we escape the danger by getting outta dodge. Then, of course, some of us just freeze – alert to the fact that what we’re facing requires our attention, but literally unable to muster the capacity to do anything about it.
I don’t know which acute stress response you gravitate towards most as you navigate your beliefs and how you hold them. I tend to do all three and more. But the result each time is the same: fear makes me relate to certainty in a way that makes it all but impossible to encounter God.
But the author of Proverbs tells us: fear is the beginning of wisdom, fear of the Lord in particular, that is.
Now, I know that you might feel really, really uncomfortable with the idea that fearing God can lead you into wisdom…I am too. You might want to deny it altogether. Though my hunch is that if you’ve made it this far in the devotions, you’re at least open to experimenting with the idea.
Because accepting or, at least, entertaining the possibility that God is worthy of fear isn’t some Bible verse factoid to deny or accept. It’s not mere knowledge. It’s the act of conception through which wisdom gestates and is birthed!
Wisdom involves an encounter, a relation, an unfolding. It’s a visceral – as in incarnate – practical knowing while also unknowing that God is immense. That’s how fear attaches to certainty. Because when we truly encounter God, we know with certainty that God is too big for the kind of comprehension that can also be certain. And when we have this certain uncertain comprehension, we also know that we are held between the non-borders of that incomprehensible immensity.
Yeah, I mean – that’s confusing even me, and I came up with it. But the upshot is, we are tiny. I am tiny. Teensy weensy, in fact — and that’s glorious.
In one of his love poems to God, the poet Rilke writes, “I’m too small in the world, yet not small enough to be simply in your presence, like a thing—just as it is.” I think Rilke feared God. I think he risked the intimacy of truly encountering God. I think he knew that he was both too small and too big, too humble and too arrogant, too wrong and too right to encounter a God who is living. To be simply in God’s presence, like a thing—just as it is. And he goes on, and this is the part that really gets me – “I want to mirror your immensity. I want never to be too weak or too old to bear the heavy, lurching image of you.”
The heavy, lurching image of you. A heavy lurching image in me.
Of course, just as I bristle at the idea that I should fear God, I bristle at the idea that I should cast off weakness and age. I can be certain that there are problems with both. But I can also be certain that they somehow still offer something true.
Because perhaps as much as I fear being too tiny, I might also fear being too immense. Because I know I fear being worthless, perhaps I might also fear being of value.
Wisdom is beyond and beneath these kinds of knowing — the kind that trade in over or understating our convictions. Wisdom, rather, encircles and fills the place where mind, heart and body integrate. It’s the site of the soul’s knowing: where what we know becomes who we are and who we are becomes what we know. All that and none of it. Holding on and letting go.
This devotion encircles the sacred space of certainty, to help you figure out what certainty means to you. What do you know? What do you need to unknow? And who are you in the midst of all that?
Once you’ve spent enough time in this sacred space of certainty, you’ll pick where to go to next. If you’re following this transgressive devotional journey in one of the more standard directed ways, you’re headed either to Presence or to Doubt. But you know the drill by now. Do the meditations. Do the activities. Follow your gut. Let God be your lure. You’ll know which path to choose.
Each of these audio tracks creates a sacred soundscape, interspersing Scripture readings with times for reflection. Feel free to choose whether to pray with the tracks with music or without.
Take a piece of paper and fold it in half lengthwise. On the left side, write 5 things about God or faith or Jesus (or anything we might call ‘theological’) you believe. Don’t overthink them and don’t use too many words. Just 5, quick, simple beliefs.
Once you’ve done that, write 5 — again, quick, simple and not too many words — things about God/faith/Jesus/etc. you believe are untrue on the right hand side of the page..
Now look at your lists. Choose one from the left side and one from the right, and try to come up with three counter arguments. Why might the thing you believe be wrong and the thing you don’t believe be right? Try to come up with at least three counters to each of the two claims.
If you’re enjoying this, feel free to create counters to other (un)beliefs on your lists. If you’re feeling ready to move on to the final part of the activity, then take a look at your counter arguments and see if there are any threads that might tell you something about how you embrace or avoid certainty in faith.
What is a Christian belief that you’ve changed your mind on? Something you completely did an about-face with. Like, you believed it fervently and now you believe its opposite just as fervently. And if you’re not one for holding your beliefs fervently, then go ahead and pick something that you’ve changed your mind on in a generally self-regulated way 🙂
Now close your eyes and visualize the moment when your belief flipped. What led up to it? What was the fallout from it? What caused you to change your mind? How do you feel about your old belief now? What have you lost and gained in changing it? And as you visualize your answers to these questions, what feelings come up for you?
If this reflection is proving productive for you, you might consider choosing
one of those feelings and journalling about it in the context of that belief as it
changed. See what you can find there for understanding your own emotional
relationship to certainty in faith now.
Take what you recorded for your thoughts and feelings in the head- and heart-based activities in this section, and read back through them one at a time. As you’re reading, notice what they stir in your body. If reading while simultaneously attending to your body feels tricky to you, feel free to pause for a moment each time you finish reading so that you can explore your visceral response on its own.
As you explore, do you find yourself feeling particular beliefs or your emotional responses to them in different parts of your body? When you hold onto something certain, where does that certainty reside? When you hold something shaky, where do you feel that?
As always with these body-based activities, you can trust that what you’re learning is integrating into your bodily ways of knowing God. But if you also find journalling helpful, you might want to jot down a few notes about what your body taught you here as well.