I can imagine a tribe huddled in a cave deciding who is to pull watch that night. Several candidates are available, some of which have been known to fall asleep in the quiet, wee hours of the night, others have the reputation of being alert to every sound in the forest outside. Perhaps, in some very foreign, lost language, they ponder, “Who do we choose for tonight’s watch?” The fact that a big grizzly had been sited near the cave in recent suns would have weighed heavily on their minds as they unanimously chose Argh, the most watchful one. Certainty increased their likelihood of survival.
That instinctive desire for certainty is, of course, present in our lives today. Which path is more certain for me to achieve my goal in this world? What education, which mate, which job, which stocks do I choose to ensure happiness, fulfillment and success? Certainty is usually, but sometimes unstated, a salient factor of our selection process. But to the extent certainty is not achievable, uncertainty is present.
Perhaps more apparent than in any other human quest, the pursuit of a personal understanding of our spiritual nature is fraught with uncertainty. In a recent conversation with a friend of mine I was informed of my misguided ways — that since I did not accept Jesus as my personal savior (as my friend’s teacher defines it), I would not enter into heaven or know God in the afterlife. Furthermore, I was told, he could not imagine how we could possibly use the Bible as a basis of the teachings of our spiritual community since, having read the homepage of our website, he knew we did not accept the literal truth of “Scripture”. Scornfully dismissing the validity of an individual’s ability to interpret “Scripture”, he stated we should rely upon other “more knowledgeable men” as the experts. It was a test of my patience, to be sure!
My friend achieved his remarkable success in the world through a disciplined application of reason and a powerful personal presence that proved very persuasive in his career. In his worldly affairs, certainty had been his guiding light. But in his “born again” transformation, it seems he has released his reliance on reason in the face of the uncertainty of his spiritual quest. To increase his certainty, he has chosen to accept the Bible as being literally true; thus, he is uninterested in the history of its formulation. Apparently disregarding its inconsistencies and inappropriate teachings in today’s society (for example, on slave ownership), he leans heavily on only those passages he has been told are important, using the interpretations others have defined and ignoring the illogical conclusions arising from those inculcated interpretations. In his spiritual quest, certainty has become his blinding light.
Perhaps certainty is not the ultimate consideration of our spiritual quest. Follow the logic (sacrilege!) here: Certainty induces expectations. Expectations filter perceptions. Perceptions color our experience. Our experience informs our understanding. The logical conclusion is our quest for understanding of our spiritual nature is limited by our certainty. If our spiritual quest is to gain an understanding of our spiritual nature, then certainty must be released and uncertainty celebrated.
To the extent we are able to celebrate uncertainty, expectations will be released, perceptions will be less filtered, and experience will reveal a trove of lessons of who we are and of our relationship with the Divine. What could be more useful in our quest?