The Myth of Certainty

“Most incivility in the world is committed by people who are absolutely certain that they know what they’re doing.” —M. Scott Peck in A World Waiting to be Born: Civility Rediscovered, chapter 8: How Not to Waste Your Time, 1993.

I started writing about this incredibly timely book, even as it is several decades after its publication, in my blog at the end of October. And here in the second week of Advent I am stunned at how much it seems to be in conversation with the liturgical year in this most special of painful Christmases.

Peck describes civility, or healthy human behavior in relationship, as “consciously motivated organizational behavior that is ethical in submission to a Higher Power.” He goes on to share that true civility cannot happen in a rushed lifestyle, since it is reliant upon Consciousness. Noticing. Being Aware and Awake.

Which is exactly what this time of Advent is all about.

John the Baptist’s perplexing words in the wilderness to people who were looking for direction to find the most out of life were, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.” (Matthew 1: 2)

“Repent” is the English translation for the Greek work metanoia, which means to change one’s mind—to learn how to see people and interactions differently—to process the information the world gives you from a position of emptiness, openness, and solidarity with lack of certainty.

We have not usually been taught this by the Church. My experience with many professional Christians has often been one of absolute certainty that their way of seeing Jesus, interpreting scripture, valuing traditions, and understanding other religions is the best way. Which is appropriate if you are a person still in the early stages of religious formation. But this posture is of little help to those of us who are able or willing to hike out into the wilderness for something more.

The perplexing words of Advent are here to fill the longing of those who are hungry for more than just glib responses to life’s deepest questions.

Peck reminds those of us looking for more out of life that there are never formulistic solutions to the seeking, the longing, or the hunger to see and experience life differently or more joyfully. He touches upon three guidelines, though, that he has found helpful:

  1. time
  2. heart
  3. emptiness

It is this last one that I hear in many parables and striking words of Jesus:

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life will lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:24-25)

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9: 23-24)

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18: 4)

I believe he was able to deliver these pithy statements to his own hearers in his day from teachings he had learned like this one from Isaiah 64:8 (one of our Advent readings):

“Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

How might the divine be inviting you to slow down, open your hands, and still your need to be certain, risk-free, comfortable, and feel completely competent in what you are able to offer the world today? It is certainly an important aspect to assisting the world to be born in a new way post-pandemic.

There are many great resources today to learn meditation in one form or another which I have found invaluable to my spiritual journey as a Christian. For a lesser-known meditative prayer form in the Christian tradition, check out Contemplative Outreach’s website at https://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/

In our hunger and longing to experience Christ afresh this year, may we discover the deep holiness of Uncertainty to be an invaluable friend. Amen.

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