A light summer of digital production, but a few things are coming my way that have my attention. Today, it’s a chunk of an email from my friend Kathy Jourdain who is evolving into one of the premier Art of Hosting bloggers out there. We were in a group email conversation about safety and comfort and the hidden dynamics of groups, and Kathy’s reflection on the distinction between the unnamed and the unknown was this:
The first is this difference between the unnamed and the not knowing. The difference is something I feel or sense and am not sure I can articulate. In hosting work we often sit in the not knowing – not knowing what will happen next, sometimes the not knowing of what is happening in this moment. In ourselves, as we host ourselves, we know stillness will help bring us through the not knowing into clarity. In groups, holding the space and consciousness of the not knowing – which often looks like chaos and often is the groan zone – will host the group into the knowing or clarity that emerges. In both these cases, naming things also helps to bring clarity. There is a subtle difference though in the naming of what’s in or emerging from the not knowing (like when we name the groan zone for a group) than how I am understanding the unnamed although this is a bit more mystifying and maybe even mystical to me. The naming of things changes our relationship to whatever it is we have named. I’m just wondering if there is a whole stream of things/stuff/experiences that we can’t name, will always be unnamed and allowing it to be unnamed allows a different experience of it – and maybe that’s what I mean by a spiritual experience. And maybe mostly, in how I’m thinking about it, it happens in the silent places, the silent experiences. It happens in connection with the divine or connection to that which is greater than us – the experiences we have that are beyond words, individually and collectively.
I find this distinction immensely helpful. I seem to have a built in desire to name everything around me, and to label and identify what is happening, but sometimes, as Lao Tzu reminds us, what can be named is not often what is actually happening.
I have been working with many spiritual leaders lately in a variety of Churches around North America. One of these leaders pointed to this unnamable mystery by referencing a “heresy” he holds about the Eucharist, the ritual sacred meal that evokes the last supper Jesus Christ shared with his friends. My friend, who is a gourmet chef in addition to being an influential spiritual leader, said that his heresy is that the Eucharist is not about the elements – the bread and the wine – but instead about the unnamable moment that arises between close friends who have just shared a meal together, on the eve of the impending death of one of their closest comrades. That sense of an electric space between us, of a rich field of love and affection and togetherness is what Jesus was pointing to when he said “do this in remembrance of me.”
Confusing the elements with the mystery is a great way to drain a moment of that ineffable quality that makes the impossible possible. It is important to learn how to host this distinction and name what needs naming and leave the mystery alone.