Past the Boundaries of Knowing


Photo by Joshua Sortino on Unsplash

A poem by St. John of the Cross, translated by Rhina P. Espaillat

I went in, I knew not where
and stayed, not knowing, but going
past the boundaries of knowing.
I knew not the place around me,
how I came there or where from,
but seeing where then I found me,
I sensed great things, and grew dumb—
since no words for them would come—
lacking all knowledge, but going
past the boundaries of knowing.

Of piety and of peace
I had perfect comprehension;
solitude without surcease
showed the straight way, whose intention—
too secret for me to mention—
left me stammering, but going
past the boundaries of knowing.

So wholly rapt, so astonished
was I, from myself divided,
that my very senses vanished
and left me there unprovided
with knowledge, my spirit guided
by learning unlearned, and going
past the boundaries of knowing.

He who reaches that place truly
wills himself from self to perish;
all he lately knew, seen newly,
seems trifles unfit to cherish;
his new knowledge grows to flourish
so that he lingers there, going
past the boundaries of knowing.

The higher up one is lifted,
the less one perceives by sight
how the darkest cloud has drifted
to elucidate the night;
He who knows the dark aright
endures forever, by going
past the boundaries of knowing.
This wisdom, wise by unknowing,
wields a power so complete
that the learned wise men throwing
wisdom against it compete
with a force none can defeat,
since their wisdom makes no showing
past the boundaries of knowing.

There is virtue so commanding
in this high knowledge that wit,
human skill and understanding
cannot hope to rival it
in one who knows how to pit
against self his selfless going
past the boundaries of knowing.

And if you should care to learn
what this mode of being wise is,
it is yearnings that discern
the Divine in all its guises,
whose merciful gift and prize is
to confound all knowledge, going
past the boundaries of knowing.

I found the poem above and thought to share it with you. It’s such a deep, powerful and beautiful poem, that when I first found it, it struck several cords within me.

Life will have you disillusioned severally. At a point, I found myself living in what seemed like a world of perpetual disillusionment, but coming across this poem, I found some sort of peace and solace.

We as humans, naturally always want to be in control. I’m the type of person that also wants to constantly be in the know. But life doesn’t always play out that way. We find ourselves thrown into the dark, not having clarity on things, unable to predict how situations and circumstances will play out exactly. “Curveballs” are usually what they call such instances. While they seem inevitable, it doesn’t mean we like experiencing them. However, I’m learning again, that Life would always be a journey of faith. This means, we won’t always be in the know, and this might happen more often than we’d expect.

What do we do in such instances? We wait, we trust, we stay patient, we remain hopeful, we trust the one who truly has foresight over us. Believing when it looks like there’s nothing left to hope for, can indeed be shrivelling.

I’m not here to simply fill you with sugar-coated words such as “there’s always light at the end of the tunnel”. I do not intend to administer to you any form of false hope. When life gets real, we simply get more real with God.

Reading the above poem once again, I get that feeling of a person going on a journey not quite sure of the destination or of things going as planned. This, I’m sure is an all too familiar feeling we can relate to in one way or the other. Doing this thing called life can oft feel like entering into the unknown, like taking baby steps down an unfamiliar path or terrain, and that’s true for us in most cases, because we’re all experiencing life for the first time; with no prior past lives to look back on, guiding us to having it all figured out. The thing is, even if such existed, each decade, century, millennium that’s going too far – each day, week, month, and year comes with something new and different that can’t be judged based on previous times.

As a student of life, past questions don’t usually reveal the answer. Each moment comes with new questions to be answered in the present. So taking it one day at a time, we treat life as unique as it is, holding onto our anchor, emptying ourselves of every assumed knowledge, and instead simply adopting a posture of surrender to the captain of our life’s ship.

I’ve found that one can have perfect peace even in the midst of not knowing. Rather than being in a state of consistent agitation, one could find tranquillity, and this is by letting go: abandoning the gnawing notions of life’s setbacks, drawbacks, and disappointments. Life is deeply spiritual and our physical senses are grossly inadequate to grasp and understand all that there is. Mysteries abound that we might never get to explain, but all around us, there are hidden traces of God waiting to be found.

Photo from Unsplash

As we seek to go along “the path less traveled” (a phrase coined from another favourite poem of mine titled ‘The Road Not Taken’), let’s not be limited by what our minds can understand. While our physical realities might be staring us boldly right in the face, God wants to paint a greater picture in our hearts if we’re open and receptive enough for it.

Love and Grace,

© Zizi, 2022.


4 thoughts on “Past the Boundaries of Knowing”

  1. That’s a very good one : the poem and your reflection on it. You made some notable statements.
    1. When life gets real,we get more real with God. Very true and good advice.
    2. All around us there are traces of God for the discerning ones.
    3. Each day, week, month, year and decade has its own peculiarities.
    Too many unknowns in the issues of life. Need to take and work with situations on their peculiar merits.
    Thanks for the good thoughts shared, more wisdom and grace.

    Liked by 1 person

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