But I have come to see that knowledge contains its own morality, that it begins not in a neutrality but in a place of passion within the human soul. Depending on the nature of that passion, our knowledge will follow certain courses and head toward certain ends. From the point where it originates in the soul, knowledge assumes a certain trajectory and target–and it will not easily be deflected by ethics once it takes off from that source.
…History suggests two primary sources for our knowledge. …One is curiosity; the other is control. The one corresponds to pure, speculative knowledge, to knowledge as an end in itself. The other corresponds to applied science, to knowledge as a means to practical ends.
…Curiosity is an amoral passion, a need to know that allows no guidance beyond the need itself. Control is simply another word for power, a passion notorious not only for its amorality but for its tendency toward corruption. If curiosity and control are the primary motive for our knowing, we will generate a knowledge that eventually carries us not toward life but death
But another kind of knowledge is available to us, one that begin in a different passion and is drawn toward other ends. This knowledge can contain as much sound fact and theory as the knowledge we now possess, but because it springs from a truer passion it works toward truer ends. This is a knowledge that originates not in curiosity or control but in compassion, or love–a source celebrated not in our intellectual tradition but in our spiritual heritage.
…The deepest wellspring of our desire to know is the passion to recreate the organic community in which the world was first created.
To Know as We are Known by Parker J. Palmer on pages 7 to 8 (from chapter 1, “Knowing is Loving”).
The thing to remember is how
tentative all of this really is.
You could wake up dead.
Or the woman you love
could decide you’re ugly.
Maybe she’ll finally give up
trying to ignore the way
you floss your teeth as you
watch television. All I’m saying
is that there are no sure things here.
I mean, you’ll probably wake up alive,
and she’ll probably keep putting off
any actual decision about your looks.
Could be she’ll be glad your teeth
are so clean. The morning might be
full of all the love and kindness
you need. Just don’t go thinking
you deserve any of it.
By Scott Cairns in Compass of Affection: Poems New and Selected (page 3).
Elizabeth’s handmade card to me contained a line from this poem. Her love, being true, knows desire and loss.
Clenched Soul by Pablo Neruda
translated by W.S. Merwin
We have lost even this twilight.
No one saw us this evening hand in hand
while the blue night dropped on the world.
I have seen from my window
the fiesta of sunset in the distant mountain tops.
Sometimes a piece of sun
burned like a coin in my hand.
I remembered you with my soul clenched
in that sadness of mine that you know.
Where were you then?
Who else was there?
Why will the whole of love come on me suddenly
when I am sad and feel you are far away?
The book fell that always closed at twilight
and my blue sweater rolled like a hurt dog at my feet.
Always, always you recede through the evenings
toward the twilight erasing statues.
The love of which spiritual tradition speaks is “tough love,” the connective tissue of reality—and we flee from it because we fear its claims on our lives. Curiosity and control create a knowledge that distances us from each other and the world, allowing us to use what we know as a plaything and to play the game by our own self-serving rules. But a knowledge that springs from love will implicate us in the web of life; it will wrap the knower and the known in compassion, in a bond of awesome responsibility as well as transforming joy; it will call us to involvement, mutuality, accountability.
To Know as We are Known by Parker J. Palmer on page 9 (from chapter 1, “Knowing is Loving”).
Who do you circle round
Who is it circles round you
Is it circles round you?
Who is it circles round you
Do you circle round who
It is circles round you?
The ghost around the one it haunts
The want around the thing that wants
The way the mind just wanders off and then returns to
The thought around the second thought
Love or gravity or law
Whatever name it’s got it’s got me
Circling round you…
Lyrics from “Orbital” by Josh Ritter, from his 2010 album So Runs the World Away (titled after a line from Hamlet).
Love means to learn to look at yourself
The way one looks at distant things
For you are only one thing among many.
And whoever sees that way heals his heart.
Without knowing it, from various ills –
A bird and a tree say to him: Friend.
Then he wants to use himself and things
So that they stand in the glow of ripeness.
It doesn’t matter whether he knows what he serves:
Who serves best doesn’t always understand.
Thanks to Hallie for singling out this poem. I owe thanks to a common friend for my small enjoyment of poetry. It is good to read more by Miłosz.
Every grammar and every narrative is an imposition; every source of inequality in power is a source of intimidation and force; even love has force—for it draws and compels people in ways that they may not desire in themselves. Thus, as long as the church is constituted by human beings and is a human institution, it will participate in the structures of power at work in the world and will exercise a power that is spiritually and ethically ambiguous at best.
…Christian witness is fated to exist in the tension between the historical and the transcendent; between the social realities that press on human existence and the spiritual and ethical requirements of the gospel; between the morality of the society in which Christian believers live and the will of God. These oppositions are a fact of existence for the church and each Christian believer and they pull in conflicting directions—one toward the necessities of survival and the other toward the perfect will of God. There is no place of equilibrium between these oppositions and no satisfying resolutions. In this word, the church can never be in repose. The tension is not lessened by the fact that there are unavoidable ambiguities that inhere in the application of biblical promises, values, and ideals to everyday life. Nor is it lessened by the fact that the love required of the Christian is unlivable, except in flawed approximation.
To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World by James Davison Hunter, pages 182 to 183.
Thomas [Aquinas] conceived of the intellectual process as analogues to the union between lover and beloved, a union between the learning subject and the object of study. The Latin word from which the word study derives, studium, can also be rendered desire. Learning engages the whole of the subject, who is in relationship all the time. Rather than learning being preparatory so that one can have a better relationship with the divine or with others, because one better understands Physics or Shakespeare and has learned how to reconcile what one learned in class with what one reads in the Bible, the learning process enacts relationship. Every act of study is an aspect of the comprehensive relationship we all have with God. For Thomas, because God upholds the world, there is no time in which we are altogether lacking a relationship with God. The truths of reason are to be found in a participatory, relational understanding of what occurs between subject and object. Learning in and of itself provides spiritual and moral formation.
Thomas found lots of support in Aristotle for this understanding of the learning process. The Greek philosopher exhibited just such respect for and relationship with the world of objects around him. He did not look at objects in terms of their usefulness for someone or something else’s ends. Rather he expressed unparalleled interest in the ends of the things themselves that he studied, whether in biology or political science. All things have a specific end and are not properly themselves until they have achieved this end. In his understanding of the cosmos, everything is in motion, put in motion by the first mover and staying in motion until there’s a perfect fulfilling of ends, resulting in perfect rest. The desire for this fulfillment of ends keeps thing in motion. The universe operates on the principle of cosmic love.
From The Passionate Intellect: Incarnational Humanism and the Future of University Education by Norman Klassen & Jens Zimmermann, Chapter 2.