…the most important thing you know…

I was listening to a Q & A session on Monday with NT Wright and a group of students from Virginia and in the course of this conversation Wright said something that was absolutely remarkable (note: he said it in a way that was absolutely unremarkable, like he’d known it out of the womb…and I was humbled once again).

We have tended, in the post-enlightenment world, to privilege mathematical or scientific knowing as though 2+2=4 is really the highest sort of knowledge that there is. That’s absolutely certain, it’s analytically true that 2+2=4, that’s just the way life is. And then we’ve seen other sorts of knowing as kind of less than fully certain, and so sort of second grade and second order. But in fact the most important things that we know in life are not like 2+2=4 – I mean, that’s pretty darn important – but to know that this person loves me and that I love them, to know that this piece of music is stunningly beautiful. You can’t put that into a test tube, you can’t put that into a bank balance, but it is a hugely important sort of knowing.

– NT Wright

Isn’t that beautiful? Doesn’t that make you feel something?

knowledge 1To ponder the idea that there is no higher knowledge than knowing love and beauty and grace and sympohony…that does something profound. For one thing it deflates the idea that highest knowledge is a thing for upper-crust, caviar aristocrats. Anyone can see a sunset, embrace the idea that a loving God put that there, and suddenly be a world renowned scholar. Anyone can embrace their child, hold a baby, kiss their spouse, or sit in peace with a good book or a table full of friends and they can, in that moment, know more about the world than Aristotle, Einstein, Newton, Pascal, or Darwin. Suddenly the ranks of the intellectual elite are accessible not only on the picturesque campuses of Harvard, Yale, or Princeton but also in a condominium in South Florida, in a trailer park in Central Georgia, or in a redneck cabin in the foothills of Tennessee. Anywhere there is transcendent beauty there is a level of knowing that is unrivaled by any classroom.

But what is our tendency? Do we not so quickly flip on the television, get to work around the house, or go our separate ways after a quick greeting? Do we really believe that there is some great reward for memorizing Walking Dead episodes? Is there really a powerful quality to the grocery store that makes it our first priority? Are we so busy and regimented that we can’t reallocate our schedule to include 15 more minutes of beauty?

There is a principle that I believe is spiritual but it isn’t really mentioned in the Bible by this word. I believe the Doctrine of Lingering is all but lost in our culture. Lingering is not waiting, it isn’t about patience, and it is different from tarrying. You see, lingering is what we do when we’ve come to the end of our plans and goals and find that we haven’t wrung the love, joy, and grace out of a moment. It is at that time that we make a decision either to let the moment drip dry after we’re gone, or we will choose to fold it in half once more and twist it for all it’s worth. The latter is lingering. And sometimes lingering is done with some faint bit of pressure because you know that you have other things to do, but even as you know you need to go there is a tether that binds your life to that moment.

My son is not quite a year and a half old, but I believe that he, and probably most kids his age, get this idea perfectly. Asher is not fond of stopping. He goes until he’s given out and then he drops and sleeps. But even in the midst of his high-speed, high energy existence there are times when he will stop and just stare. Who knows what babies are thinking, surely whatever it is must be too glorious for words – it is only expressed in laughter and squeals. But Asher gets t those moments where there is something worth stopping for, or something worth plopping onto the floor for, and he stays there. Sometimes it’s the promise of a little more juice extracted from a worn out sippee cup, sometimes it’s the crumbs in the bottom of a sleeve of crackers, sometimes it’s the hope that dad will tickle just a little bit longer – “if I’ll just linger”.

We will find the most important things, the highest ascents of knowledge and understanding, when we learn to linger. Was it not Jesus who lingered on the mountain through the night and into the first rays of morning, just for a few more moments with Father? Was it not the disciples who lingered on the boat just one cast longer and found out who the Son of God really was? Was it not Mary Magdalene who lingered in the Garden of Gethsemane that morning, cloaked in fear and tragedy she couldn’t just leave…and in her lingering she came face to face with the impossible.

I wonder if you’d linger a bit today. I wonder what you might find in those few extra moments.

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