but I know him because I have come from him and it was he who sent me.
In the long movement towards self-awareness, human beings have come to recognise different levels of consciousness. It seems that dogs dream but they don’t seem to be interested in the difference between the waking and dreaming state. We have grown in awareness of different kinds of knowledge and operations of mind. Whether all this evolution of consciousness has made us better than the dogs and gods we worship, or what it means, is another question.
Perhaps we need to take two steps forward and one step back. I mean, as we grow in self-awareness, we need to remember directly the difference between levels of consciousness. For us and our relationships it is important to distinguish between dream and reality. In a media-saturated culture where we easily become addicted to our devices and deprive ourselves of even ordinary degrees of peace – let alone the peace of God that passes understanding – it is crucial that we remember the existence of a level of pure consciousness. This is why we go the desert every day to do the work of silence. ‘Abandoning’, as John Cassian said in the 5th century, ‘all the riches of thought and imagination’, we find the royal road to poverty of spirit – detachment and the capacity to enjoy and understand without possessiveness and the illusions that carries. The meaning of Lent and daily meditation.
Socrates told of a scholar who approached an Egyptian king with a wonderful new product called writing. He claimed it would expand people’s memories: ‘my discovery provides recipe for memory and wisdom’, he claimed. The king was too smart to sign up immediately for a subscription to this wonderful new medium. He concluded that the invention would have the opposite effect because ‘people will cease to exercise memory’. Instead of drawing directly from within themselves they will come to depend on the ‘means of external marks.’ He sounds like a modern person complaining that with Google and electronic calculators we have lost the habit of memory, mental work and the art of learning.
It’s hard to be completely convinced of this extreme position, especially as Socrates’ words had to be written down by his student to reach us today. But the differences between direct and indirect knowledge have never been more important to address. However wonderful a TV nature documentary it is not the same as real trekking. Discussing meditation or doing research into its benefits is not the same as meditating. Coming to an experience of God through ideas, symbols or ritual has immense value. We are weaker without this language. But to know that ‘I know God because I have come from God and it was God who sent me’ is a form of knowledge that cannot be digitalised in a binary system or even the most beautiful writing.