Beyond The Limits of Knowing

Another glorious jolt in my inbox this morning from Richard Rohr’s new series on The Wisdom Tradition. This passage in particular spoke to me. “Alongside all our knowing, accompanying every bit of our knowing, must be the humble “knowing that we do not know.” That’s why the great tradition of prayer is balanced by both kataphatic knowing, through images and words, and apophatic knowing, through silence, images, and beyond words. Apophatic knowing is the empty space around the words, allowing God to fill in all the gaps in an “unspeakable” way.

This is why the music of Taize creates such powerful worship experiences. Perhaps too powerful for some—the silence leading them places they may not want to go. Each chant refrain is a few simple lines sung in repetition. This frees the mind and the spirit from the task of reading and staying locked in the language and allows us to enter more deeply into the sung prayer.

The seeker’s heart is called back home. The impatient heart is infused with stillness. The troubled heart is unburdened and set free.
But the greatest gift of Taize worship is when the music stops and the silence starts, letting God and wisdom and your own soul come together to move the needle of your own understanding. Sometimes the silence lasts for 3 minutes. Sometimes 10. When I went to visit the Taize community in France, thousands of people would sit in corporate silence for 30 minutes between songs. It sounds crazy to our modern ears, but in that space it was luminous.

If you’ve never listened prayerfully to music like this, or have never tried sitting in silence as a method of prayer, be gentle on yourself. You’ll probably get pretty twitchy at first. When the monks at St. Andrews Abbey first instituted periods of silence after each sung Psalm—an ancient practice, with a similar rhythm—the monks were downright childish about it, developing sudden coughs and the need to drop things and retrieve them in protest. But try it. Just for a minute. And maybe the next day a minute more. You might discover elements of grace in new ways.

But this idea of knowing through images speaks to my heart as well.

"Closed Eyes" by Odilon Redon

“Closed Eyes” by Odilon Redon


This was the impetus behind The Renaissance Service, which gathered all sorts of unlikely people into God’s house thirsting for beauty, truth, and peace in new ways. These services used a blend of Taize chants with the glorious, liturgical hymns from Marty Haugen’s Holden Evening Prayer. You can see how even a small worship gathering can be blessed with his version of Psalm 141.

I miss creating these services. I’m wondering if they might be resurrected in some new form this year. I think that will be my prayer. Until then, let your servant now go in peace.

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