Monday, November 30, 2015

I Don't Know

"Shrouded in Mystery"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -

As I sat in a local restaurant eating lunch a few days ago I watched a small child gazing in awe and wonder at what may have been one of the cheapest and ugliest artificial Christmas trees I had ever seen before. The “tree” was made out of plastic, covered with strands of gaudy aluminum tinsel, and decked out with colored twinkling lights that kept blinking off and on, distracting me as I tried to eat my lunch. But the little boy in the restaurant didn’t see it that way- he stood in awe before a wonderful sight, marveling at the sparkling tinsel as it reflected the bright colors of those mysterious lights blinking off and on.

As I sat and watched that child the other day I had a sudden flash of insight. I thought to myself “that little boy is an agnostic, a true agnostic in every sense of the word.”  As for me, I had it all figured out, I had no doubts that the Christmas tree in that restaurant was ugly, cheap and distracting. I obviously know what a good tree looks like and what a cheap and ugly tree is. But that little boy didn’t know what to think, he hadn’t yet lived long enough to make up his mind about what he saw in that tree; so he just “took in” all  the colored lights and sparkling tinsel and it was “wonder-filled.”

That word “agnostic” often carries some pretty negative baggage with it in religious circles. Agnostics are people who do not “enjoy” the certainties of faith and need to be shown the true way. It’s true that agnostics are people who are unable or unwilling to affirm who God is with any degree of certainty, but I’m not at all sure that agnostics need to be shown the “true way,” maybe it’s the other way around.

It seems to me that rather than figuring out how to convert an agnostic, perhaps people of faith might look upon an agnostic mind as a model of where faith should lead. Any spiritual path should always lead to deeper mystery, a mystery that cannot be explained or named or pushed into pre –conceived categories.

As I observed that innocent child gazing in wonder at a Christmas tree the other day I immediately remembered what Jesus taught once when he put a small child upon his knee and told his disciples: The Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

As I see it, Jesus was teaching his disciples to have the “mind of a child” when walking on a spiritual path- always be filled with wonder, see the world with new eyes every day, don’t ever try to figure “God” out – God is a mystery that can only be experienced and never explained.

Jesus’ teaching is very similar to the Buddhist concept of a “Beginner’s Mind” - the more one grows in wisdom the more one develops an uncluttered mind, free of pre-conceived explanations and clear-cut ideas, always open and ready to embrace the world as it happens in every moment as if you are seeing it for the first time.

Saint Augustine once said: 

Anything you think you understand about God is not God.

In similar fashion, the celebrated Christian mystic, John of the Cross, said:

The higher one ascends on the ladder of the spiritual journey, the less one understand.

That little child the other day once again reminded me of an important lesson on my journey of faith. Just when I have my mind “made up” and I think I have it all figured out I need to remind myself that the greatest faith to which I can ever hope to aspire is to say:

I don’t know

There is so much about the mystery of life that I just don’t understand, so much about “God” that I will never know or can ever be known. All I can ever do is bask in the presence of the “Great Mystery” and see each day with the wondering mind of a child as if I am looking at it all for the very first time. 


  1. So true. We can tend to have things all parcelled up so that we think we 'know' them. And the same goes for the loved ones in our life. What if we saw our partners and our children with the beginners mind? I know that when I do this I see so much more and so can respond to this seeing in a more heartfelt way. Thanks Paul xx

    1. Yes, thanks. Isn't it odd that the goal of wisdom is to be a beginner? .what a wonderful paradox.