Something More than Learning only?

Those of us who are most interested in words are those most acutely aware of the struggle for words. How words are able to get you to say things you didn’t want to; how they stubbornly resist your feelings and thoughts, and just will not allow themselves into your hands adequately when you are looking for expression.

A number of us write down our thoughts in neat phrases and manage to get along pretty well with such imprecision. People not concerned with close accuracy; and concerned only with getting enough precision to be understood in fairly straightforward terms.

A number of us use codified registers of language. Registers that denote whereabouts we belong, to whom we defer; those groups and outlooks with which we align, and even represent. The great Ben Jonson said: ‘Words make a man; speak let me see thee’.

Like handwriting experts who analyse script, there are persons able to show themselves pretty closely upon an examination of their use of language.

Gradations in stresses, and use of hyperbole, little deftnesses skipping over consequences, sleights of hand excluding difficulties: fierce protestation as sincere profession, smoothing, eliding, coalescing, leapfrogging, insisting, and demanding, are all dark hints at our fingertips.

Our reasons for the most part justify our feelings. We are each a knotted ball of fiery emotion; we are impossible for us to unravel. At best we can go only some way unwinding the tangle, and if we are not careful, we end up more confused and strung up than we were beforehand. But most of us don’t look too closely at the workings of our human hearts; and we go through life without much thought whether we have attempted fairness or have put a reasonable case.

We want mostly release for our feelings, our prejudices, our allegiances, our frustrations our expectations; and we are glad to let off steam and not be elegant, and we can be convincing if we show sufficient vigour.

Language then becomes a chattel, it carries loads and does chores for us; is no more than a useful tool for clearing our chest or for sticking it to someone.

We stand in danger here too of becoming the tools of language; like the smartass doing a flanker on us; a fast one we didn’t notice. There’s no-one more likely to perpetrate and to suffer this than an educated, but uncultivated person; a person versed in the use of words, who fails to discern or maybe to accept the critique that the world passes on her/him; the hammer of life experience beating on the subject about her/his way of life and choice-taking.

We can fool ourselves sometimes; marshalling language and emotion so valiantly that we lose sight of hard fact. And no matter how much we know, or how much one is on the lookout, none of us gets away and in the clear from this trap every time. Each of us has at some time tripped over her/his own tongue and/or keyboard, either in an attempt to fool others or else fooling oneself in the course of wrestling meaning into language.

It remains that unless we obtain a sense for this clarity of vision, which is issued by and derived from that conduit passing to us the wisdom that living our lives teaches, completion of our educations are likely to remain attenuated and our knowledge, even when immense, avail hardly at all. How a person is able to receive this life-wisdom, and how one person is less or more able to receive than another, is a Godly mystery. Maybe a few things about it can be said?

Is it an unreasonable paradox to say that cultivation in the self is accomplished accordingly as one’s self is abnegated? And is to say this, like suggesting that the more a person learns the more aware she/he becomes of how insufficient to her/himself she/he is? And are these two paradoxes making the same kind of statement, of a kind that ultimately denies the motto ‘Knowledge is Power’, and effectually assert its opposite, that ‘Knowledge is awareness of lack of Power’?

To progress in understanding, in a becoming towards cultivation, one must give up, perhaps, and in equal measure, a certain instance of one’s self? And this instance of self is perhaps the driver of much of our assertiveness and assurance; although its giving up is not a resulting in our greater timidity or uncertainty? Because to give up this instance of ourselves is healthful and of benefit to us because it is that part of ourselves which prevents us and of which we would gladly, once relinquished, have let go?

Or is this nonsense? I believe not.

I like to think that the prophet Micah was of this mind, who spoke of the Lord’s workings before us as ‘like a refiner’s fire’, and continued saying ‘who shall stand when he appeareth?’ Like age wears us away in our physical bodies, passing time in our minds wears away our selfhood’s resistance to acceptance, with all the ambiguity of that phrase.

Not a toleration only, which is not acceptance, but opening us up for something to enter into us, something provided by I can hardly say what, but which is undeniable, and, when one has been made well-prepared, irresistible.

And the opening up, and the acceptance and the loss, and the giving up, of self, are one undivided act of refining us being done by some truly powerful providential and unseeable hand which is only inferable; and inferable only by the results of its workings, but so strongly felt as present because its effects on us are so astonishing and abstruse.

We are left with what then? The rare silver? The dross having burnt off? Less yet more? Outwardly less; less time remaining, less presence for the world, less dealings within it, and less need for recognition arising out of it. But with having a more sure sense of a solid foundational grounding, of conviction there is vexation in accounting ephemeral particulars, plus greater coalescence of character and connectivity, within oneself and also with this something which rules all things so relentlessly.

And to delusion? Isn’t it just getting meanings wrong? Using language in ways that confuse meaning? Delusion is also perhaps to think that an obtrusive self matters? That this instance of self we are asked, taught, and required to shed matters, whose shedding is so gradual and so long time coming, and so reluctantly agreed to, as though too much too soon would be overmuch to sacrifice, too overpowering to contain; and by which we receive only in measure of our robustness to sustain. Like Moses bearing only sufficiently to see the Lord’s hinder parts pass by; and with some trepidation.

True to our natures we fight all the way against our encouragement towards our improvement. We give up willingly only what we understand we have no longer any use for. How such a dynamic might work unless there were a driver who stands outside us and engineers its workings; being the source and supply of this guiding kind of Grace, is hard to see.