“It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.”
-Wendell Berry, “The Real Work”
This morning, before we began the 14 miles of New Hampshire hills that roll between Winchester and Fitzwilliam, Meg read the above poem. Wendell Berry’s words wash away our fear and lead us towards embracing our ignorance. For today, I understand the need to admit our uncertainty if we wish to seek for authentic truths, or, in the context of climate change, a real path forward, sensible and commensurate with the scale of crisis.
In the Gospels, a whole lot of folks sit at Jesus’ feet and just don’t seem to get his teachings. Even his twelve disciples ignore the way of the Kindom he has been expounding for them to argue about who gets first place. The fault is not with Jesus’ pedagogy, but with the listening skills of his audience.
Today, I am seeing how many of those keenly interested in Jesus’ words fail to understand, because they listen to their own expectations, rather than the one speaking before them. Arguably, Jesus’ death came about through a (deliberate) misunderstanding of metaphor – seeing Jesus as a violent political revolutionary, because that is precisely what people expected the messiah to be.
When our minds cling fully to whatever brand of solution we buy into, it leaves no room for us to listen. But confessing uncertainty removes our mental earwax. As I walk this pilgrimage, my body is hammered with the awareness that when we admit we lack the specifics of life after death, when we admit that we do not hold the schematics for the evacuation out of climate crisis, we hollow out the space to learn together through listening and witnessing boldly.
It’s not just about the humility of admitting that we do not know the right idea yet. It’s about realizing that sometimes, the right answer is in proclaiming that we do not know. And so I propose we celebrate the mysteries, and embrace the community that can be built through confessing our uncertainly. Because it is only when we lay false hopes in the tomb can we see the new creation born ahead.
I write this blog post now by firelight from a wood stove, and the warmth of a drifting fiddle and guitar. I am trying harder to listen – to the musicians and the crackle of the logs, to my fellow pilgrims and to those locals scared about the pipeline, to the message behind the hospitality from Fitzwilliam Inn and the Jensens, and to hear the way forward on climate present through this all.