When I was in college one of my favorite courses was taught by Professor Andy Koehl and it was on the very nature of knowledge. Epistemology was a wonderful course and it caused me to think deeply about how I knew the things that I thought I knew. Epistemology was a course that lent itself to navel gazing and deep contemplation about the nature of life.
Last Monday morning I sat and listened to a former Jesuit Priest and current spiritual director named Wilkie Au. He spoke to us about the nature of knowledge in a different way than Dr. Koehl had taught in college, which makes sense as philosophy and spiritual formation are two different schools of thought with very different purposes. Wilkie taught us about the nature of knowledge and challenged us to think deeply about the things we know about God.
Wilkie Au laid out the concept of knowledge having layers. Some knowledge is informational. I had a burrito for lunch on Monday and that burrito was filled with tofu. The knowledge of what I had for lunch is simply information which states facts. Information is static knowledge that does not change.
Some knowledge is formational. There are things which we learn that change the way we see the world around us—this knowledge creates a lens on reality which changes our perspective. The week before last my kids and I were listening to a podcast from NPR called Wow in the World which talked about the effects of methane from cow flatulence on climate change. The podcast challenged people to replace some of the protein they eat with insect or plant based protein. The information in that podcast changed my perspective and changed my lunch order from a beef based burrito to a tofu based burrito. It still tasted good smothered in hot sauce.
Wilkie finally challenged us to consider that some knowledge is transformational. The knowledge shapes, forms, and helps a person to live a life marked by authenticity. My listening to the podcast did not transform my life, at least not yet. If I were to live into the knowledge that my lunch choice could help make the world a better place, consistently move towards that truth, and eventually allow that information to change the way that I live my life on a daily basis that information could be said to be transformational.
Now, how does this affect a life of faith? I have lots of information about my God in my brain. I have whole reams of knowledge from my education which tell me about the themes of various books of the Bible, conceptions of the lives of figures from scriptures and history, and a lot of knowledge about the lived life of the church. A lot of that is information which is helpful, practical, and applicable. I also have a lot of knowledge which has helped to form my perspective. I know that God loves people, so I try to choose to consistently love people. I know that God cares for the hungry, so I support the local food bank and our CHOW pantry. This information forms my view of the world and even begins the beginning steps of transformation.
The question I am left with is whether I let the love of God become something that I know which begins to transform my heart and soul. Do I allow God’s love to go that deeply into my soul that it begins to draw out the deep parts of myself? Do I allow that formational knowledge to express itself in my actions so I begin the act of transforming the world around me? While Dr. Koehl might ask how I could know my neighbor is not the effect of the work of some Cartesian demon, Wilkie Au might ask me how my love of God might transform the way I treat that neighbor. How does what I know transform who I am into the image of Christ? For that matter, does what I know transform me into the image of Christ or does it drive me farther from the life of the Spirit?
As I said, we asked tough questions this past week. I continue to recommend you take the opportunity to experience an Academy if you have an opportunity.