O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! – Romans 11:33 (NRSV)
A preacher I know once stopped short in the middle of her sermon, head down, silent. After several seconds, she looked up and said softly, “I have no idea what I’m talking about.”
She hadn’t wandered from her point or lost her place on the page. She’d been cogent and confident right up to that moment.
The moment she was overcome with a searing awareness that she was out of her depth.
The moment it struck her that when it comes to the Mystery, neither she nor anyone else on the face of the earth has the faintest clue.
The moment when she, who’d been nattering away like a person who knows things, was so mortified by her impudence that she couldn’t go on.
She finessed the awkward moment with a joke, finished, and sat down. Afterwards, nobody mentioned it. Except one astute parishioner who told her that when she’d said, “No idea…,” he’d wanted to shout, “Hooray! The truth at last!”
He’d always distrusted the glib way religious people—right, left, and center—speak of the Holy, as if they were God’s press secretaries emerging from the briefing room with verbatim notes to report out the divine mind. He had no idea, either, but he’d never heard anyone in church admit it.
It’s not that we don’t know or can’t say anything true about God. There are things we do know, things we rightly stake our lives on. But they are few. Maybe God-talk would feel more honest if it were equally modest.
Maybe people would trust it more if it were diffident, if it left some things blank.
Maybe it would ring truer if we proclaimed the depth of the riches by silence and sighs as well as talk, talk, talk, talk, talk.
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.