We learn some things sequentially, a step at a
time: first the basics, then intermediate challenges and, only later, greater complexity.  Like math, for instance: learn to count, to
add, and to subtract; then, to multiply and divide.  After this basic arithmetic, take on simple
algebra and whatever mathematical marvels are beyond algebra.  I have no idea what those marvels might be,
by the way.  I treated math the way some
people treat the required swimming test in college physical education: I waded
around in the shallow end of geometry and calculus, took just enough strokes to
show I wouldn’t drown in equations and formulas, and promised never to go near
the water of numbers again.  For most of
us, even people who like math, learning it is a series of more or less
sequential steps. 

A visual artist might start with a big crayon
on butcher block paper, move to tempra paints on newsprint, to smaller crayons
in a coloring book or on standard white paper, to pencil and ink in a
sketchbook, and to water-colors and maybe oils on canvass.  There will be lessons, apprenticeships,
degree programs, discarded paintings, early shows that include pictures the
artist later can’t believe she let see the light of day, as well as a few
treasures which show future promise.  For
the most part, an artist builds skills on top of skills, and the early steps
have to come before the later ones.


There are a lot of things we learn that
way—sequentially: from basic to intermediate to advanced.  But we don’t learn about ourselves, or about
God, in that kind of predictable and orderly way.  There isn’t a course, complete with software,
videos, and online support, which can guide you, step-by-step. into self-awareness
and self-knowledge. And there certainly isn’t a manual, like one you’d use to
prepare for the SAT or the GRE or the Bar Exam, to prepare you to be certified
in the knowledge of God.  To know
ourselves more truly and to know God more fully and deeply is a far more
circular, labyrinthine, mysterious, meandering, and joyful adventure than any
merely formulaic or step-by-step process could be. 

It’s also true that knowing ourselves and
knowing God depend on each other.  God
made us intricately, knows us intimately, loves us unconditionally, and
delights in us eternally, which means, to say the very least, that God knows,
values, and believes in us far more than we know, value, and believe in
ourselves.  We can only know our identity—who
we really are–by learning it in conversation with Holy Love.  That Love invites us to discover ourselves by
discovering more of the vast, glad, and fathomless Mystery which is at the heart
of all things.