Unknowing

Winter 2010 #13 

And so the doctor said ………

“It’s too soon to know”.

After two years it’s an incongruous turn of phrase.  My reaction is an all too familiar paralysis, giving way over a day or two to a turbulent mix of fear and hope.  Fear that Diagnosis-Day is still to come at some point in the future, and hope … well there is always hope, whatever may lie ahead. 

But I wish, I just wish and wish that a doctor would tell me what’s actually going on, where things are at, and what to expect next.  “Surely”, I say to myself, “surely the words probably or possibly can’t be that hard to get your tongue around?” Couldn’t one of these experts venture an opinion that might be useful in framing the future? A few thoughtful words could go a long way!  I’ve heard the same hesitation from enough professional mouths to realize, finally, that their corporate lack of opinion must be quite reasonable, even though it feels to me so utterly contrary.  Anything instead of this endless silence!    

This weekend we held our annual church conference, “Kingdom 2010”, a glorious day of praise, inspirational speaking and great friendship. There’s a challenge, though, in meeting with friends and colleagues in a power wheelchair, wired up with a voice amplifier to boot. These accessories, invaluable as they have come to be, are more than merely embarrassing. They are a deep and unwelcome incursion on the image of myself that I still cherish. During conference it was strange to see my old unencumbered self on the screen in footage from previous conference years: fit and strong and completely free of medical add-ons.  But more intimidating than all the external paraphernalia is the internal burden of ‘unknowing’; a sense akin to foolishness that sends me groping for an explanation when people ask, “How are you?” or worse still, “Any answers yet?”  Christians above all people should be good at mystery; we should be well versed in dealing with the unknown. We believe, after all, in the resurrection of Christ, the Trinity, the heavenly host of Angels and a host of other mysteries besides.  But when we proclaim, “faith is the substance of things hoped for”, our natural inclination is towards substance over hope.  We want to touch, hear, taste and see.  I suspect many of us regard faith merely as the catalyst that transforms hope into substance.  I, for one, crave the solid reassurance of knowledge.   The dark silence of unknowing is unnatural.

Most days of the week I exchange an email with a good friend whose circumstances are somewhat more challenging than mine. A few years back Grant suffered a cerebral aneurism, an unexpected and severe blow, and I had the privilege of visiting him as an able-bodied hospital chaplain.  Just a few months ago we met again, this time sitting in opposing wheelchairs across his dining room table. How things change!  Grant’s condition has often teetered on the precipice of steepest decline; more than anyone I know he lives on the brink of eternity.  He is well qualified to remind me of “the rich dependence of unknowing” as he did in our correspondence yesterday.  There is such wisdom in those words, and in my friend I see something I deeply admire.

Well, I’ve had my rant; I’ve once again vented my anxiety and to some extent dealt with the grief that presses behind my eyes.  Unknowing is my lot for now; and it is my gift, a gift from above.  Indeed, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God” (Deuteronomy 29:29).  Who of us, after all, knows much about our future?

Perhaps the silence of unknowing is an invitation to true spiritual life. Perhaps faith is the essence of hope. 

The need to know is so finite, so human, and of course that is what we are.  What I do not know provokes my dependence on the Alknowing.

Rejoice!

3 Responses to “Unknowing”


  1. 1 brett August 30, 2010 at 12:10 am

    Love ya Roderick, you’re a brilliant man.

  2. 2 Kathleen Powell August 30, 2010 at 10:56 pm

    Thank you Roderick for your honest and frank words. I can empathise with you as my husband,Brian,found himself in a similar position towards the end of 2005 and through to July 2006 when he was taken to be with his Lord. Now he has all the answers but the journey of unknowing was strange.It is obvious that like Brian through the mystery of it all you have a “peace which passes all understanding” Thanks for sharing.

  3. 3 roderickmallen August 31, 2010 at 12:14 am

    Hello Kathleen,
    It is a strange journey isn’t it? But a rich one; and I wonder if the strangeness isn’t actually a taste of the contradictions that surround us constantly in life, but from which we often manage to hide. Thank you for your thoughts.
    Blessings!
    R.


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