A Community of Unknowing

A Soul to Soul Essay

Friends,

My next email newsletter will be coming out soon, but before it does, I want to share with you something I’ve been thinking about lately.

This last week I feel like I’ve been experiencing an extreme dose of constant political, social and religious whiplash, reminding me that I belong to a long line of Black, Indigenous, and other women of color who enter and exit religious, academic and political spaces wondering if all of who we are is welcomed there.

I’ve seen some of the best and the worst of humanity compressed into anti-Native slurs on social media and personal and public messages reminding me that my voice matters in the world and to keep going.

And what I keep returning to in the midst of all of it is that to be fully human, to embrace all that it means, we must actively enter into a community of unknowing.

A community of unknowing embraces those parts of our humanity and our sacred belonging that lean into how important it is to name the fact that we are constantly journeying, seeking to understand our own stories and experiences while working to understand the stories and experiences of others.

This is from my upcoming book called Native: Identity, Belonging and Rediscovering God, and something I shared recently when I spoke at Baylor University to their students in chapel:

With so many conversations on white supremacy, hate, racism and toxic patriarchy, we aren’t going to get anywhere unless we consider narrative. We’ve got to honestly talk about the story America is telling itself, and the truth of where we came from: that we were built by settler colonialism, by one group (and later many more groups) pushing out another group to create a culture that identifies itself by toxic empire. If we start there, with that recognition, we will move forward, just as I moved forward in my own process of healing. When we name our trauma, when we name the parts of our story that have been in hiding, we come closer to naming truth.

And when we name truth, we call our fear into the light. We face it.

This means that we aren’t so interested in who is wrong and who is right. The fight for human rights, the fight for the rights of the earth, is about standing against systems that hurt and oppress because we believe that flourishing depends on understanding sacred belonging for everyone and anyone. When we ask hard questions, we are dismantling systems of rightness and wrongness, and creating another way that is led by solidarity and community.

Somehow, our questions tether us to Mystery, to Goodness, to seeking Truth, and that’s deeper than talking solely about what we believe.

So, we enter the community of unknowing. We enter into spaces that require an examination of sacred mystery. We live with constant questions, more questions than answers, more shrugs than assuredness, and we acknowledge that it’s okay to be there.

And for many of us, that’s terrifying. For many of us, taught to be part of religions and social systems and political parties that are so sure of themselves, it’s so scary to say that we are going to choose another way—until we find that so many have already done so.

And when we find our way here, in the spaces of unknowing, we become people who are the kinds of prophets that remind the masses to stop and to breathe amidst the chaos.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes is one of those prophets, who recently wrote the following in a gorgeous piece called Do not lose heart. We were made for these times:

…In any dark time, there is a tendency to veer toward fainting over how much is wrong or unmended in the world. Do not focus on that. Do not make yourself ill with overwhelm. There is a tendency too to fall into being weakened by perseverating on what is outside your reach, by what cannot yet be. Do not focus there. That is spending the wind without raising the sails.

One of the most important steps you can take to help calm the storm is to not allow yourself to be taken in a flurry of overwrought emotion or despair – thereby accidentally contributing to the swale and the swirl.

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.

Did you hear that? Our task isn’t to fix everything right now, but to stretch ourselves out to mend what we can—first the questions, the curiosity, the caring, then the slow and steady mending.

Friends, some people won’t be okay with your unknowing.

Some will be threatened and bewildered by your questions, and yet, you are not alone. You belong to a community of people who, in the midst of chaos, don’t search for being right, but simply search for being love.

I believe that is The Way.

So with the constant back-and-forth whiplash of asking (and often demanding) who we are supposed to be as humans in such chaotic times, I simply offer up that we belong to one another, as do our stories, as do our experiences, and therefore, as do our questions.

Our questions will lead the way.

“I am writing because sometimes we are closer to the truth in our vulnerability than in our safe certainties.”  ― Rachel Held Evans