Ways of Knowing

Do you know my wife? She is 5 foot 4 inches tall, weighs 125 pounds and has brown hair and brown eyes. Do you know her? And if I were to tell you that she is a godly woman who treasures her animals, even hugging her horses and squeezing her dog, do you know her now? If you knew her social security number and her DNA, would you know her?

Knowing involves much more than a series of factual statements. What if you walked with her on the beach, feeling the warm sand between your toes, tasting the salt in the air, watching the blue waves crest and crash, hearing the surf’s never-ending rhythmic cycle? Do you know her yet? And what if, in the midst of this experience, she spontaneously turned to you and recited from the great hymn, “Be still, my soul; the waves and wind still know His voice who ruled them wavewhile He dwelt below.” You begin to see that to know my wife, you must listen to her speak with an ear ready to grasp meaning beyond bare facts.

For too many believers in the West, the way of knowing is almost exclusively through the accumulation of facts. To study geology, we learn a set of facts. Do we learn theology in the same way? Or, better, do we know God the same way we would know geology?

It is true that we learn about God by the reading and study of his Word, and by collecting information via courses, books, blogs and the internet. Orthodox Christians know that the Bible is God’s revelation of himself in Christ. But an exclusive focus on this manner of knowing is alien to the Christian heritage. This way of knowing is based on our reason, but we have neglected our imagination.

I propose that the arts provide fuel for the imagination – helping us to see things we would not otherwise see and know things we would not otherwise know. How would we know that a lily in the field points to God’s provision for his people unless we spent time in contemplation of that lily and of God’s goodness? Would we know this truth by the careful examination of the structure of the lily—its stamens, and petals, and sepals and method of pollination (i.e. biology)? Or, instead, would we see the great metaphor inherent in the lily as a whole—its beauty, its wonder, its complexity, and its struggle to grow and seek the light (i.e. poetic imagination)?

Are not the metaphors used in poetry meant to awaken us to the truths in our midst? Are not stories meant to “tell it slant”—to tell a tale that is an unexpected truth just as Nathan told King David the story of a little lamb? Is not music meant to arouse our souls to passion and love, rather than an analysis of air vibrations? It is difficult to say precisely what these things “do” for our faith, but I think that is exactly the point. These things speak to us on a differently level and in a different way, prompting our imaginations and our spirits to join with our reason and our bodies in glorifying our great God.

The purpose of the Kalos Foundation is to assist us toward this goal. I want to stress that the focus of Kalos is not to teach Christians to have an aesthetically pleasing life. It is not to instill in us an “appreciation of the arts.” Instead, the mission of Kalos is to assist in the growth of the believer toward a full knowledge of, and love for, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

RCR (12-1-12)