is the responsible human struggle
to rely on clues
to focus on a coherent pattern
and submit to its reality.”
Esther Lightcap Meek builds off of this definition of knowing, emphasizing each line separately in the five parts of her book Longing to Know. I read it years ago and it has always stuck with me. Why? Because Meek writes about the wonder of knowing—it is literally stepping into new worlds of reality.
She references those Magic Eye pictures from the early 90’s as an illustration to explain how we struggle to find clues, focus on the coherent pattern, and then vector, or “lay out” through the clues to unlock the reality behind them. It’s a creative act. And yet it finds what’s already there.
Sadly, modernity has reduced the way we think about knowledge as just some facts that we arrive at. But Meek uncovers the whole act of wrestling, searching, gathering the clues, finding the patterns, and the risk-taking that knowledge involves in the seeking for it. It’s dynamic. When we come to truth, we find another picture of the world of reality. Submitting to this truth is likened to having the right key, unlocking the door, and entering that world. But it does not mean that we can always be certain. That’s part of the dance involved in our fallen, epistemic acts. This gives us the courage to make integrations of the patterns we find and sharpen one another. All of us long to know, we were made that way.
I also really enjoyed her book Loving to Know. Her covenant epistemology includes the necessary and rewarding sense of longing to engage reality—true reality. In it, she says:
Pay attention, not to the factoids, but to the longing. Start, not with what you think you know, but with what you long to know. Let longing shape what you think knowing is…Longing, I believe, is part of knowing.
This is exactly how studying the Song of Songs has been for me—like stepping into another world of eschatological imagination that searches for the gems of reality, propelling us forward to our telos. It’s absolutely thrilling.
So I was delighted to see that Dr. Meek was recently interviewed on the Two Cities podcast. She talks about the relationship between art and knowing, saying, “the act of discovery and the creative act are fundamentally the same thing. But it takes a kind of overhaul on your default of how knowing works to see that what your doing is actually of a piece—it’s actually a creative act and a coming to know. In modernity, reality gets reduced to the bits of impersonal information.” Then she blew my mind with this:
“Beauty is epiphany. Reality is too.”
Yes! This is exactly it! It intertwines with what Robert Jenson says in his commentary on the Song: “beauty is realized eschatology, the present glow of the sheer goodness that will be at the end.” It makes us want to enter in. And the Song takes us right into the inner chambers, the holy of holies.
But back to Dr. Meek. She continues: “When you get to the heart of reality, it is a ‘here I am.’ It’s fundamentally a self-gift of love. It’s an event to which you are summoned to show up. …it’s not an item that you collect. It’s not a characteristic of this or that painting or not. It’s an event. And it’s not an event of my own subjective personal taste. It summons all of me. It’s not within me, it summons me to be beyond me, so it’s ecstatic. So, epiphany is the Lord’s gracious manifestation of himself to the Gentiles, right? You know, the magi, saying here I am. It’s always self-disclosive. It’s a self-disclosive event that then carries us beyond ourselves to desire and respond to it.” This self-gift of love is the spousal love of God to his bride, again, so showcased in the Song. And you see in the bride a habitation of liveliness—a true freedom in belonging. It’s fructifying.
Dr. Meek talks about finding the philosophical in the ordinary, that as humans we are all philosophers. So she finds the ordinary magical, saying, “reality is incredible!”
But we are missing it. We are missing the magic. We are missing the beauty. Even as the church, we parse careful theological statements and miss the love and dynamism behind them. We state propositions but we don’t see. Dr. Meek continues:
“Ordinary is intoxicating. The church doesn’t get the extravagance that the gospel and art share…Protestants in particular don’t get this extravagant thing. We tend to be Judases caught up in the functionality, like Christian utility. Because we’re marked not by the Bible—I mean, we share commitment to the Bible but what we bring to it in our unexamined, metaphysical, and epistemological underpinnings, this whole modernity thing, has just skewed how we see. And our love of God can only be unleashed by this philosophical therapy. Artists will be better artists, and more of us will be artists.”
I was so drawn to this conversation. And it reminded me of another book, G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday. The main character, Syme, has an epiphany of his own at the end:
“Listen to me,” cried Syme with extraordinary emphasis. “Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front—.“
If we don’t see the world with Sunday as the first day of the week (working off the metaphor of the book), all we see is the back of everything. We are mere reactors to history. We work and labor for a rest that eludes us. But when we know Christ, the vision of the future is opened up. We can see the front. We have a face. He is the Ultimate Reality. All of the sudden, even the absurdities that often occur in life find their home. The destructiveness of false ideas is left naked and exposed. The masks have no adhesive. C.S. Lewis must have been inspired by Chesterton’s book for his, Till We Have Faces. But I’m going down too many rabbit holes here.
We are being summoned to know Christ and all he has to show us. Beautiful reality.
Anyway, I’m off to hunt for some more clues…