The Little Manual Symposium
A Little Manual for Knowing is a how-to for knowing ventures of any kind, in any field.
A symposium, like Plato’s famous dialogue of that name, is a party that, along with festive food and drink, features delightful dis-cussion of philosophical ideas, each participant offering a con-tribution to the conversation.
This LM Symposium, therefore, features contributions from thoughtful people from a variety of walks of life, about LM and their particular sort of knowing ven-tures.
I’ve personally invited each one to tell how LM elucidates and helps improve knowing ventures in their field, suggesting how you too might use LM in such ventures.
Would you like to be a contributor? Send me something like this, and I will consider adding it here. Or feel free to informally share positive experiences on my author Facebook page, Esther Lightcap Meek.
Thanks for entering the conver-sation. Know that it will give others concrete ideas about using LM in their own knowing ventures. Know that that will bless me, too.
We will post our contributors' responses as we receive them, so keep checking back.
A Little Manual for Knowing and...
LM and the Art of Contemplative Spiritual Guidance
Phillip Stephens is a voice specialist and parish administrator. In addition to being an associate of the Order of the Holy Cross, he is a staff member of the Spiritual Guidance Program of The Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation and serves as a spiritual guide and retreat facilitator. He is interested in cross-cultural studies and inter-spirituality.
Contemplation within the Christian tradition is understood as “the practice of attending wholly to the mystery of God” (Kettle 63). Contemplative Spiritual Guidance within this tradition is a ministry of prayer involving a spiritual pilgrim, companion, and God wherein the pilgrim seeks to discern the Holy Spirit’s invitations for a spiritual journey. As the Holy Spirit is the actual guide within this prayerful encounter, the discernment of the Spirit’s invitations involves “a first-person form of knowing that possesses intimacy and directness, as it is both based on and the fruit of here and now awareness of one’s unveiled experience of reality, which includes a direct and nonconceptual experience of one’s own existence” (de Wit 33). Esther Meek, in A Little Manual for Knowing, invites a pilgrimage for knowing characterized by loving encounter, pledging transformation, inviting dance, and indwelling Shalom – a Grace-filled voyage of discovery congruent with the one encountered within Contemplative Spiritual Guidance.
Reflecting upon Meek’s description of knowing, the refrain from one of my favorite hymns emerges into consciousness: “Where charity and love are, there is God.” The refrain comes to mind because I experience the ministry of Contemplative Spiritual Guidance as a manifestation of the inherently social exchange of freely affirming energy known as Love. I marvel at how within each session the Holy Spirit draws a pilgrim and me into a loving encounter within the depths of the Holy Trinity. There, we commune from the heart to the point of mutual transcendence. The communion looks and feels like agape, the love that flows from the heart of God through the Incarnation into our space/time continuum where we encounter God in the very being of one another.
When I consider the lives of those within the Christian tradition embodying such loving encounters, I am drawn to the Desert Mothers and Fathers, the prototypes for Contemplative Spiritual Guidance. Within the depths of their being, they pledged themselves to God’s transforming love through an encounter with one another. Although they were not big on talking, they were big on loving communion. When they opened their hearts to God for the other, the other appears to have been a primary conduit of the Word of God within the encounter. The famous story of Abba Lot and Abba Joseph comes to mind:
Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame” (Ward 103).
Within the encounter, Joseph hears the voice of God calling from the depths of Lot’s heart expressing a desire to become more visibly incarnate. Experiencing the voice of God through Lot, Joseph allows his own heart, ignited by God’s love, to burst into flame. Only then does he dare speak, fanning the spark within his companion.
There is a parallel between the story of the Abbas and my experience of sitting with a pilgrim. As the Spirit moves to open my heart in prayer with and for a pilgrim, I consistently experience a voice calling from the depths of the pilgrim’s heart desiring a more intimate relationship with the Ground of Being, in all being. As I prayerfully listen for clues within our intimate dance, the Spirit nudges my heart to stand with the pilgrim’s need in the midst of the Holy Mystery we call God - not with intent to solve a problem or find an answer, but to share invitations and wonderments for the pilgrim’s journey as revealed through our encounter. The pilgrim and I are invited by the Spirit into the mysterious dance of intercession (from the Latin, “inter” plus “cedere,” meaning “to stand among or between”). On the days we are especially blessed, we are drawn through intercession into the Prayer of Presence. This mode of prayer is a deep opening to experiencing all being simultaneously as we are blessed to share the healing power of God’s love pouring reciprocally through our mutually receptive hearts.
The above reflections reveal my experience of Contemplative Spiritual Guidance to be a marriage of the conceptual systems of the traditional Western academy with the nonconceptual gifts of the Ground of Being as incarnated and experienced through all being – a marriage characterized by loving encounter, pledging transformation, inviting dance, and indwelling Shalom. Honoring the covenant of this marriage, I am continually invited when companioning a pilgrim to open my heart to the transfiguring and all-transforming love of Christ that obliges us “to leave the security of our various… states of certitude that are often forms of bondage… and launch out into the wilderness with no clear sense of destination” (Griswold). I am invited to step respectfully through the icons of methods and techniques of the conceptual realm into the experience of Divine Mystery and respond through the spirit to God with a pilgrim. The potential observable characteristics of this response are myriad given the uniqueness of each pilgrim with whom I journey coupled with the variable circumstances of any given day. Thus, embracing the Grace-filled pilgrimage of knowing shared so beautifully by Meek in LM, I am continually invited to trust in the assurance of the Spirit’s desire to transform my human frailties into opportunities for the outpouring of God’s infinite, life-giving Love.
de Wit, Han F. Contemplative Psychology. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1991.
Griswold, Frank T. "Text of Presiding Bishop Griswold's Friday Sermon from General Convention of the Episcopal Church: Reiterating Themes of Receive, Repent, Reconcile, Restore." New York: Episcopal News Service, 2003.
Kettle, David. Western Culture in Gospel Context: Towards the Conversion of the West - Theological Bearings for Mission and Spirituality. Eugene, OE: Cascade Books, 2011.
Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1975.
LM and Business Leadership
Jere Moorman is a business leadership consultant, and Vice-President of Public Relations for Toastmasters, in Napa, California. He is a member of the Polanyi Society.
Dear Esther: You ask: How might my book “A Little Manuel for Knowing” apply to business, organizations, management and leadership?
I offer a sonnet written one day reflecting on the work of our common authoritative guide, Michael Polanyi—and on your recent guide book:
out for an afternoon of playing golf
I dread the ever present water hole
too cautious I dread the putting green
I self-consciously focus on my hands
preoccupied with making a mistake
misplaced concreteness is my fatal sin
I seek a liberation from somewhere
perhaps I need a dose of common sense.
attending to my club while using it
I miss the bigger picture constantly
relying on my tool a wiser stance
indwelling the golf club a skillful way
using it as a probe to find my way
I hit the hole much better than before.
so long I played so mechanistically
but now I trust myself to swing away
imperfectly indeed but not bogged down
I am standing firmly on solid ground
confident my body won’t let me down
imperfect yes but believing all the same
I look at my description of the Golfer and ask myself: how am I like this self-conscious golfer in my life as a leader, and what did I find in your book that could help?
I have gradually shifted to relying on my tools, including my mindbody, instead of attending to them. I have become less mechanistic; I trust myself more: perhaps, in your vernacular, I have learned to love myself more, especially when it comes to knowing and being.
I am more integrated than before; I appreciate profound patterns in innovation; I love my problems more; I trust myself to swing away; while at the same time appreciating the many focal clues that become available. I appreciate more of a multileveled approach to knowing and being; I seek sublimations of profound patterns rather than a rote reductionism to “facts as such”: “Meaning is not a matter of the ‘naked truth’ of bare facts!!”
I acknowledge my finiteness and imperfection; I am not bogged down by information as such.
I am standing more firmly on the solid ground of my mindbody and the rest of the chorus of facts and persons: seeing this grand entourage as more of a cathedral than a pile of rocks. I have become more of a weaver and orchestra leader than a mechanical drill sergeant who treats others as robots.
On page 34 you have a figure of the Loving Gaze of the Other: this is worth the price of the book.
This can be applied—among other situations—to helping new hires get acclimated: here are four principles from Christopher Hann in Entrepreneur magazine (July, 214, p. 34):
Finally: I invite you to indwell The Golfer as a metaphor for the self-conscious leader dreading the water hole; bogged down with “looking at” and able to shift to a better orientation of “relying on/attending from”: born again—using a musical analogy—from being “note sensitive and melody deaf” to a virtuoso of effective and efficient relationships and innovative (and hazardous) venturing.
LM and Learning Covenant Epistemology
Aaron Williams is a Curate for Adult Discipleship at Christ Church Anglican in Plano, Texas. He is a graduated of Redeemer Seminary (M.Div.) and the University of Missouri – Columbia (B.A.). Currently, he is a postulant for Holy Orders under the Rt. Rev. Todd Hunter, bishop of the Diocese of Churches for the Sake of Others, in the Anglican Church of North America.
As I sat in the classroom with the other graduate students, I could see the light bulbs coming on. Hands were flying up as each student eagerly waited to share a personal epiphany. Heads were swirling to take in each new perspective and insight. I had been in classrooms where the professor had given such a captivating lecture that students took it in with jaws-dropped to the floor. I had been in seminars where the dialogue and discussion were so thoughtful and fruitful students did not want the time to end. But I had never been in a classroom where thirty plus students, who had little to no background in the subject matter at hand, were each jumping at the opportunity to participate and interact with the material and the professor. Such was my first experience in Dr. Esther Lightcap Meek’s classroom.
For the class we were assigned Dr. Meek’s tome, Loving to Know, and told to be ready to discuss it before the first lecture. We were thrown into the deep end. Some students dived right in making their way about with ease. Others, however, were barely treading water, some flailing about and others doggie paddling the best they could. If only there was a swimmer’s guide for turning epistemological doggie paddlers into Olympic swimmers. Well, here it is: A Little Manual for Knowing.
Covenant epistemology presents a seismic epistemological shift, which can create an immediate “void” in regards to understanding knowledge and reality itself. In deconstructing the predominant epistemology of modern Western culture, covenant epistemology is at first disorienting and even jarring. Experiencing such disorientation might tempt students to give up and get out of the water, so to speak. Epistemological therapy is challenging. But for those who entrust themselves to Dr. Meek as an authoritative guide (at least for the short 108 pages of LM), they may just find themselves transformed and eventually able to take long, joyous strokes into the deep.
What I have found most compelling about LM, and covenant epistemology as a whole, is not simply the content of what it proposes but that it actually accomplishes what it proposes. That is, covenant epistemology itself transforms the knower and known bringing both into deeper communion one with the other. If one “pledges” oneself to covenantal epistemology as a way of knowing and takes Dr. Meek as an “authoritative guide” then covenant epistemology will bring transformation. In a particular shift of irony and truth, LM makes epistemological sense of the experience one has reading LM.
Now as a teacher and a pastor, I could write of how LM makes sense of knowing ventures in my vocational fields. But having the unique of experience of being Dr. Meek’s student, I have had a front row seat (metaphorically speaking, since I prefer the back-of-the-classroom) to covenant epistemology in her classroom. I have seen how love and pledge to truth and authoritative guides brings one into the dance of knowing and can lead to transformation and communion. This is true for all knowing ventures, but it is especially true in regards to the knowing venture of covenant epistemology itself.
Thankfully, I experienced Dr. Meek and covenant epistemology at the beginning of my graduate studies. I came to realize that the classes I loved the most were the classes where I had “pledged” myself to the professor as an “authoritative guide.” This did not mean I agreed with everything my professors taught. But agreement was no longer the point. The point was that I was loving to know.
LM and Engineering
Dr. Bruce A. Vojak is Associate Dean for Administration for the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is one of the authors of the book, Serial Innovators: How Individuals Create and Deliver Breakthrough Innovations in Mature Firms (Stanford, 2012) and of the website epistemology-of-innovation.com. He regularly consults for corporate engineers.
During my time as a practicing engineer and later as an engineering executive in industry, I found myself most intrigued by technologists who seemed to always just know what to do. They deeply understood the problem at hand, typically scoffed at corporate attempts to rationalize innovation processes while working effectively within them, and much more often than not were successful. And when they did not succeed, their apparent failure led them in new directions that took them to ultimate success.
Growing from this fascination, as part of a more than decade-long effort I studied (with colleagues Abbie Griffin and Ray Price) the behaviors and professional relationships of some of the most successful breakthrough innovators in mature firms. (1) By its very definition, breakthrough innovation involves the most exemplary “knowing”, as practitioners must know what to do today – to do something in an unexpected and new way – in order to succeed commercially in the future.
While contemporary approaches to innovation typically are characterized by highly-organized, highly-rational, recipe-like processes on one hand and free-wheeling, no-holds-barred brainstorming sessions on the other, the most successful breakthrough innovators exhibit a posture and pattern of knowing that fits neither mold. It was this simultaneous sense of realizing that there was something to be discovered, sensing that it might have something to do with (as I framed it at the time) the philosophy of the mind, and not yet knowing what exactly it was, that led me in the direction of Esther Meek and her work on what it means to know.
My copy of Longing to Know (LongTK) arrived days after the first of the year in 2007. It was in reading through LongTK that I experienced my first, and perhaps most significant encounter regarding how breakthrough innovators come to know. I realized that the exemplar innovator’s approach was something akin to pattern recognition of the type illustrated by viewing the images in a child’s “Magic Eyes” book, just as Esther described knowing, where beautifully intricate, embedded three-dimensional patterns are revealed only to those who approach its two-dimensional pages with the proper viewing posture. In a way, the complex multitude of dots in a “Magic Eye” image represented to me the facts, the bits and pieces of information that are accessible to all who aspire to innovate today. Likewise, the emergent three-dimensional image represented the exemplar’s making sense of those facts, a holistic and highly-personal, intimate grasp of available information, in this case not only for the present but also to some indefinite future horizon. It was stunning to realize that Polanyi’s subsidiary-focal awareness and tacit integration could describe so much of, and so accurately, what takes place as breakthrough innovation occurs. I had never before seen his work presented as such.
Eager to keep pace with Esther’s next step, my copy of Loving to Know (LoveTK) arrived during the summer of 2011. The depth or Esther’s consideration of knowing in LoveTK was compelling, especially her discussion of how modernity leads us to a lopsided form of knowing. The most important take away for me from Iwas the historical context of knowing and how our understanding of it is shaped by larger historical trends and patterns. It was this realization that helped me understand how our emphasis on refined analytic skills in engineering education, while critically important for so many applications, was insufficient for breakthrough innovation. As engineers, many of us had lost something important.
Having taken these first two steps under Esther’s guidance, I found her Little Manual for Knowing (LMK) to be an ideal guidebook to the journey. The structure – clearly discerned, not imposed – follows the progression that I see in breakthrough innovators as they come to know. Interestingly, many of them have expressed some level of uneasiness with how they think and come to know, as if there is something unfortunately unusual about them, with one even provocatively quoting the chilling line of M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense” – “I see dead people.” Yet, in LMK, Esther gives those who think this way “permission” to pursue the act of knowing as they intuitively understand it to operate. They are allowed to accept uncertainty while expecting serendipity. They are free to walk in the expectation that something good will come of what they pursue. They may practice knowing as an unarticulated act of faith. And, while uncertain about how the details will ultimately manifest themselves, they can rest confidently in the gift of what will be revealed to them.
This is not some “new age” fancy or “magic” – this is the posture and pattern of how the best breakthrough innovators in industry come to know.
(1) This project culminated in the publication of our book, entitled, Serial Innovators: How Individuals Create and Deliver Breakthrough Innovations in Mature Firms, Stanford University Press, 2012
LM and Horse Care
Casey Main is a recent graduate of Geneva College with a Bachelor of Arts in Christian Ministry. He resides in Erie, Pennsylvania where he is currently involved in full-time horse care. He has future aspirations of obtaining a Masters (the focus of which is his current knowing venture), and has both wide-ranging interests and passions.
Imagine with me for a moment. Really picture this. You are in the midst of grand dance—music swirling around you and your partner like a gentle breeze, all else becoming a blur, a to-and-fro dynamic, and the intense trust in one another with each progressive step taken. In the beginning you would banter back and forth verbally; but now, you find yourself communicating by changes in touch & changes deep within a set of gazing eyes. It is a tender yet exhilarating moment—full of deep rooted peace bolstered by a surge of passion. This is the dance of all dances. This is a moment we all long for…is it not? A moment in time beamed directly to the eternal realm. We long for communion. And we long to know—& know well.
Now stay with me. What if I told you that this is what I do every day…except with a horse. Actually, make that near 20 horses. And if you thought dancing with another human being was a terrifying endeavor, add another 800-1,000 pounds of pure muscle and stubborn will to the equation. The reality of the dance changes! Things aren’t always smooth. Sometimes feet get stepped on. Sometimes there is one that just doesn’t feel like dancing. And I suppose I should be clear before moving on any further…I don’t actually dress horses up in costumes and make them dance with me (although I suppose that would make for a more amusing story!). Instead, my dance—or should I say, our dance—is one of daily routine.
Let me give you a mere glimpse into the steps of this dance. I clean stalls, brush horses, feed them, water them, clean out their cuts, apply medicines, put on their “shoes”, lead them to pasture, discipline them, and instruct them on the way they should go. Not that big of a deal, right? Well, when there is a beast that the Lord himself claims is “afraid of nothing…laugh[ing] at fear” you tend to approach reality—in this case, my dear horse friends—on their own terms with a large dose of humility. Each horse has its own personality, or at least that’s my adamant claim. And I will assert even more passionately that you MUST form a bond of trust—a relationship, if you will—with each and every one of these beautiful creatures.
This relationship takes work. It takes consistency. It takes an intensely deep love to care for these animals, especially when they decide to bite at you…to try to kick…when they swish their tails like a whip in your face…or when they run you down trying to escape. And yes, all of those happen regularly. But there are moments of reward: when Vegas slowly steps behind you to gently rest his head upon your shoulder…when Big Gun decides you look like an excellent scratching post for his surprisingly large head. But I do say that a paradigm for the greatest kind of gift (the unexpected, wild revelation of reality) is when Skipper—an extremely temperamental and cautious-to-trust horse—consents to let you scratch his forehead for nearly 10 minutes. These mighty creatures are never to be seen solely on my terms…and if I forget that, then I can be sure I will be swiftly returned to the truth!
How does it all relate to this “LM”? I could articulate point-by-point how the vision of knowing set forth by Dr. Meek can be seen in the daily dynamic of working with horses…but since I am but one voice in this grand conversation, I will speak in general sweeping terms that will catch the essence of this vision.
This job is not one that you enter without a deep, intense, and committed love to these horses. You love them all, yet you love them individually by name—Vegas, Fred, Roany, Big Gun, Dixie, Skipper, Mike, Ike, Cherokee, Twister, Teak, Molly, Bandy, Sandy, Topper, Misty, & Cloud. (I suppose at this point, Cupcake the Goat & Snowflake the Pig would be quite disappointed if I didn’t also mention them.) You must pledge yourself to the well-being of these friends. You look with loving, caring eyes to make sure they are free of injury. You notice when their mood shifts. You caress them when they are anxious, and you delight with them when they feel joyous.
As many times as I have looked deeply into the eyes of these horses…I have found no other comparison. It is an inviting gaze…one that draws you into wild, unpredictable relationship. You become involved in a deep communion. You step foot into the barn…and you are present. There is no other way you can be; you are in the gaze of a stable-full of horses, and you are called to be present. Every day that I spend with them, I am changed. They are changed. We become friends. We become mutually trusting. We become involved in one another’s story. We learn one another.
Vegas is a lover-boy…Fred is shy…Roany is Mr. Impatient…Big Gun thinks he is the size of a lap-dog (although he is the 2nd largest)…Dixie is the bold girl of the barn…Skipper is the rebellious limit-pusher…Ike is a neat, specific, wild little guy…Mikey is quite sure of himself…Ellie is the free-spirit…Dash is the withdrawn and wild man…Lulu is little Ms. Spunky…Dragonfly is queen-bee…Teak is un-predictably spontaneous and quirky…Twister is the Thinker/Watcher…Cherokee is the daredevil…Topper the old, wise man…Sandy is the flirtatious one…Bandy is pushy…Molly is quiet yet sassy…Misty is easy to please…and Cloud is the escape-artist.
It almost feels like sacrilege to try to compress months of communion to just descriptive phrases. But this has become my family—this rag-tag band of 4-legged sojourners. And each one draws a different part of me forward. They drive me to be more patient, more loving, more caring, more noticing, and more present. Knowing horses well will help me be a better future spouse, a better future father, and best of all a better servant of the Living God.
That is the beauty of this vision: every knowing venture when lived in this interpersonal dynamic becomes transformative. Each step of the dance shapes us for that glorious celebration before the Throne in Eternity. It is the potential that such a vision has to shape the world for good that makes it so thrilling and enlivening. And yes, I will always be grateful for the gift received: knowing & being known by horses that has in some way helped heal the brokenness in my soul & in this world. Best of all, it has shown me just a glimpse of the untamable Spirit of God who “laughs at fear”…going wherever He pleases…and always being immanently & majestically present, while also calling all who lay eyes upon His Glory to approach on His own terms.
And thus, I go forth to “dance with horses”…to the tune of the Spirit swirling around us. It is a grand dance; it is a glorious dance…
LM and Stonemasonry
Dr. Robin Parry is a theologian, author, scholar with wide-ranging interests, and book editor for Cascade Books. His most recent publication is The Biblical Cosmos: A Pilgrim's Guide to the Weird and Wonderful World of the Bible (with Hannah Parry). Robin has served as editor for L2K and for LM. He lives in the United Kingdom and telecommutes most everywhere else. Robin first wrote this for his blog, Theological Scribbles.
Interpersonal Knowing of the Cosmos
Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with knowledge, dealing with questions such as, what does it mean to say that we know something? and, how can we come to know things? Since the seventeenth century these questions have been at the heart of modern philosophy. Philosopher Esther Meek argues that modern epistemology, which tends to reduce knowledge to a mere knowledge-of-information, is riddled with problems and can actually be detrimental to the human task of coming to know reality. This is not something of mere academic relevance but impacts every sphere of human life—science, the arts, engineering, parenting, politics, economics, friendship, and so on.
Meek invites us to think of the activity of knowing, whether we are talking about physics or parenting, as akin the relational activity of loving a person. In this picture knowing is the relationship between knower and known.
Meek speaks of the importance of love in truly knowing the other. Love is what motivates a knowing venture, and what guides its open and hospitable engagement with “the real.” Reality woos us with a sense of wonder, and we respond with our attention. So begins a relational journey of knowledge.
The goal of knowledge is not mastery over the known or the desire to eliminate mystery but the communion or friendship of knower and known. A knowing venture requires the knower to pledge herself or himself in a committed way to that-which-is-not-yet-known. As such, it is a risk predicated on trust in the love-responsive generosity of reality. We pledge to welcome and create space for the not-yet-known and to trust ourselves to the relationship.
Meek writes, “good knowing practice involves relating to what we want to know the way we relate to another person….We respect what we want to know, treating it as having worth and being worth knowing, as other than ourselves” (Little Manual for Knowing, 32, 41). We invite the real, the yet-to-be-known, to unfold itself and we empathetically indwell that which we desire to know. We are rewarded with moments of revelation and insight, which in turn invite further communion.
Collecting information is a part of knowing, but it has to be situated within this wider context of love if it is not to be distorted and distorting. Knowledge is not merely informational but transformational, for knower and known. It is akin to a dance in its graceful, respectful, and engaged back-and-forth between the one who knows and that which is to be known.
Meek sees her loving-to-know approach to epistemology as grounded in the theological insight that the Triune God is essentially relational. You cannot get to a more prime level of being behind the inner-trinitarian relations, so relationality turns out to be at the very bedrock of being. God’s creation dimly reflects that Trinitarian dynamic and can only be known appropriately when known lovingly.
It seems to me that this general approach, which I cannot hope to do justice to here, resonates deeply with Scripture’s engagement with inanimate parts of the cosmos as if they were animate. Meek is very explicit that to know the natural world we must engage it with a loving respect akin to that due to persons. That comports well with the Bible and not so well with the epistemologies of modernity.
By way of final illustration let me tell you about a couple of trips to Worcester Cathedral. In 2013, Hannah, my eldest daughter, and I met with the master stonemason to talk with him about his work. He had spent thirty years working stones, and he had a real sense for the “soul” of stones. He gets them and understands their properties and their beauty. By the look and feel and sound of stones (when struck with a chisel) he can get a sense of how to work with them (and how not to). But every stone is different, and when he works with them he is tentative at first, allowing the stone to disclose something of itself as he works on it. In response to the stone's individual quirks he modifies his approach. His engagement with the stones was respectful, appreciating their spirituality and seeking to draw on it, bring it out in the work, all to the glory of God.
Not long after that, I was sitting in the Advent service in our beautiful cathedral, looking around at the candle-lit walls and reflecting on the words of the stonemason. It occurred to me that the craftsmanship of the cathedral's architects and stonemasons actually brings out something of the God-directed orientation of stones, and of the rest of creation.
All things come from God, depend on God for their being at each and every moment, and exist for God. As such, even humble stones participate in God and only make sense as what they are when seen in relation to God. But stones do not wear their God-oriented meaning on their sleeves (unless, Moses might add, inscribed by the hand of the Lord). Yet, looking around the cathedral I saw stones that led the eyes heavenward towards the invisible God; stones that were not simply co-opted to some extrinsic and alien purpose but that were fulfilling their goal or telos in pointing Godward; stones that cried out in silent praise to their beautiful creator. As such this human work of the stonemasons serves to point us towards the meaning not only of these stones but of all stones.
LM and the Therapeutic Process
Dr. Dan B. Allender is a noted therapist and author of several books, including The Wounded Heart (1990), Bold Love (1992), Intimate Allies (with Tremper Longman, 1995); The Healing Path (1999), and God Loves Sex (with Tremper Longman; forthcoming). He is the founder of The Seattle School for Theology and Psychology; he teaches there, as well as traveling and speaking widely.
This fall 102 students in my class on Faith, Hope and Love will be reading The Little Manual. The class is an introductory class to help students in The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology enter into a conversation on epistemology and the therapeutic process.
I discovered Esther when I taught a class at Covenant Theological Seminary many moons ago. I heard a student rave about her work. I discovered a woman whose integral brilliance was deeply attached to the glory and joy of knowing. In many ways, that is an essential description of the therapeutic process. One can’t offer counsel unless one knows the person to whom the counsel is offered.
I may not know the life and story of the person, but I must know something about them in light of the revealed Word of God. If I am in a conversation with a person on a plane who asks: “Should I have an affair?” I don’t need to know any more than I am interacting with an image bearer who is contemplating a profound choice and I know the answer because I know God’s love of relationship, fidelity, and joy. No—don’t have an affair.
I have been traveling often for the last 35 years of my ministry (currently over 2 Million miles with United) and I have never been asked that question—I have counseled for 35 years and no one has ever asked me that question. Seldom if ever do people engage the deepest matters of the heart that directly.
But I have been in 1000’s of conversations that walk near the precipice of many profound questions that Scripture answers with immense clarity. The issue is how do we translate the truth of God’s story into the stories of those whom we encounter.
It is like a Rubix cube on steroids. The heart is complex and profoundly broken and beautiful. Seldom are there simple paths to truth or elementary building blocks that once understood enable a person to scaffold truth to the next level. It is more like a labyrinth that must be walked with deftness to escape the inevitable Minotaur guarding the heart.
Walking into complexity that is rich, deep, broken, and full of life and death requires epistemic humility. It requires the guide to become a student who sits at the feet of the person they wish to help in order to know the route to the heart. It is not the foolish notion that a good therapist is merely helping the client come to know what they have always known. It is in fact a stance that there is a knowing that both client and therapist must jointly participate in that is both known and unknown.
Certain things will come into light and then fade. Other realities will dawn and then be eclipsed by other matters. But in the process of submitting to the Spirit who brings memory and truth to the stories of our life, we both will discover that what we know is far less certain than we first thought. On the other hand, what we come to know will alter us in ways we could not have conceived or controlled.
Esther invites me to the holiness and love of submitting my knowing to a God who loves to make his glory known. There is no greater privilege than to know as long as what we know changes the way we love. I read The Little Manual at a time I was weary of my calling, overwhelmed with the cares of people. What I discovered in reading was the privilege and joy of being an epistemic explorer is far greater than the weariness. All true knowledge is meant to bring us to worship, to play, and to eat well. I love the feast I am invited to taste in the process of knowing.
LM and Teaching
Dru Johnson is an Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at The King's College in New York City and author of Biblical Knowing: A Scriptural Epistemology of Error (Cascade, 2013). He was the Templeton Senior Research Fellow in Analytic Theology at the Institute for Advanced Studies at the Shalem Center (now Herzl Institute) in Jerusalem, Israel (2012-13). Currently, he serves as the co-chair for the Hebrew Bible and Philosophy program unit in the Society of Biblical Literature.
Just prior to every semester, the excitement grew. As an undergraduate, I knew that I was going to sit in a room with an expert over fourteen weeks. I knew, no matter what the topic, that I was going to change, hearing age-old terms popularized in culture with new ears—a new grasp, with depth, of an old world. After Introduction to Psychology, "anal-retentive" was no longer a word to be giggled at, but a term with a history, story, and trajectory. I could place it, as it were, in a field of other unseemingly related people and ideas: from Freud, Erikson, and Piaget to "phallic," "fixation," and "psychotherapy." The old world I had known since birth was new, alive with meanings and implications. What, exactly, happened to me? Of course, I was the same me before and after Introduction to Psychology. The world was the same too, but I now saw it differently.
As a college professor myself, I need to understand exactly what happens in the weeks of a semester. Beyond having a grasp of the content, I need to understand what happens to my students and me. A Little Manual for Knowing taps quickly and deeply into that process and helps me to grasp the process of knowing in order to steer it in the classroom. As anyone who teaches knows, it's tricky. Being a subject matter expert is only a small step toward transforming students into good knowers, capable of "dancing" with the skills we impart in class. LM delightfully and quickly lays out the constituent parts that we often neglect in order to rest on the laurels of our expertise.
As a young adjunct professor, I was struggling to teach a philosophy course and was frustrated by some of my students who did not want to encounter the material. If I can be honest, they wanted to do what was required in order to make the grade desired and not much more. I resisted their attempts to figure out my grading patterns and they were frustrated with me. Upon sharing this with Esther Meek, she asked me quite pointedly, "Do you love your students?" She explained that if I did not at least care for them as humans and learners of whom I had the privilege of teaching, they should not trust me because I had not invited them to learn. Hence, they were only willing to play the grade game with me.
Meek lucidly extols, not just explains, the reality of knowing in all its human complexities, messiness, and profound liberties. She distills in LM what she has laid down more extensively in other works. As a professional educator (and former pastor and IT manager) myself, articulating the structure of covenantal relationship helps me to avoid common pitfalls in the road to knowing, especially when bringing others along with me. Meek carefully opens up and itemizes the entire experience of coming to know—front to back. She then weaves the parts together so that readers understand the importance of each in their place.
As a brief example, we've all had teachers who delight in bringing us to the precipice of an epiphany. Who doesn't love seeing an "Aha!" moment on a student's face? Many of us have also had a popular teacher who only brought us to a series of epiphanies strung together like pearls on a necklace, which mostly serves to keep us students in awe of that teacher's intellect or insight. Like a TED Talk, it feeds us the epiphanies we crave without ever intellectually "teaching us to fish." However, LM helps readers to understand why they cannot merely drop a student off at an epiphany. It helped me to decipher why the elements she calls "love" and "pledge" require me to bring students beyond my own personality and insight—allowing them to feel the implications yet-to-be-fully-grasped, to try out the ideas for truth, and to experience the epistemic rest of knowing something well. Meek helps me to understand the import of these for the student, but also for me.
Semesters are even more exciting for me now because I understand—front to back—my own pedagogical responsibilities, my desires for students to comprehend, and how knowing actually works as a part of the way we were created to be. Meek's text successfully helps me to understand myself as a privileged part of that process!
I especially liked the questions at the end of chapters. I think they really make it feel more dialogical (even more so than LTK). I especially liked the chapter called "Invitation." In some ways, it seems that Meek needed to write Loving to Know in order to write this book. I really think this book is what was needed. When I walk undergrads through LTK, they get it and feel the implications. However, rarely can they wrap their mind around the whole thing. LM seems to offer the whole thing quickly and clearly, which will be very helpful for many.
I'm very excited to get this into the hands of undergrads who often cannot figure out why I'm making these (what seems to them) bizarre claims about reality, truth, and our access to it. The problem is often that they are trying to categorize my thinking. Or, in reality, they are trying to do meta-epistemology. LM requires the reader to "do the exercises," which means that they are doing epistemology itself, reflecting on how they actually know things.