Just about all my life I have wondered about reality and knowing. As a child, seeing mattered more than much else, it seems. My head is actually flat on the back, because I refused to lie in any other position than on it. I surmise it’s because I wanted to see. A few leftover baby pics show a wide-eyed gaze! I’m told my English Granny pronounced that I “refused to be nursed”—that is, cuddled. Again, I’m thinking I was too busy looking around! The joy of my heart, I can recall, was looking out the window of the back seat of the car on trips, esp. to check the growing amount of sand at the roadside as we trekked across Jersey to the shore. And then, the ocean! It still is just as true that I love to see. It’s a kind of drinking in, in wonder, the color and shape of what’s around me. I esp. love ever-changing sky and water. And flowers. And faces.
My heartfelt questions, as a middle schooler, were, How do I know that God exists? And more urgently--how do I know that reality exists outside my mind? It seems there was by definition no proof of the thing I most needed to be sure of. I was ashamed of my goofy questions and kept them to myself. I knew of no way to address them.
In high school, I followed my mother’s red-pencil underlining the Francis Schaeffer’s The God Who is There. It showed that my questions were philosophical, and that responses to them had shaped whole cultural epochs across all disciplines. This fired my imagination and deepened my wonder. But I still didn’t know you could actually study philosophy. When I found that out, it took me about 12 hours to make up my mind to do so. It seemed to me the most important thing, whether I had the brains for it or not. That was four decades ago, and I haven’t ever looked back.
I found that studying philosophy brought vitality to my Christian faith: I felt I knew what the answers were supposed to be, and that philosophy gave me the questions. It showed why a Christian vision makes sense and matters.
I didn’t find philosophy easy, and many aspects of it were downright inscrutable and, at times, dry as dust. (I now understand better why it can be like this; it partly comes from it being sub-par philosophy!!) I kept pursuing my question of knowing reality, though. In fact, I wrote my Ph.D. dissertation as an effort to answer it. It’s called Contact with Reality. I wrote it on scientist-turned-philosopher Michael Polanyi’s tantalizing claim that all of us, but particularly scientific discoverers, “know we have made contact with reality when we have a sense of the possibility of indeterminate future manifestations.” (Chew on that for a while!—a lifetime!). This sentence was like an oasis in a barren desert to me. It still makes my heart sing.
Even after the dissertation, through early child-raising years, I felt I had no articulated conviction regarding how knowing works. I kept returning to ponder what Polanyi and others had said. Finally it has come together for me in covenant epistemology. That’s the proposal about knowing that I develop in my books, and apply to different things like knowing God (LTK) and knowing ventures of any kind (LM).
My own coming to know turns out to be a great specimen of what covenant epistemology says that knowing is: an unfolding adventure of pilgrimage and epiphany, to the end of communion with the real. Seeing…in-seeing…insight—the aha! moment—anchors the unfolding venture and is honorably ensconced within it. The adventure has transmuted from frustration to joy. I grow more deeply intoxicate with the reality that I have loved from the beginning.
I write all this to invite you into my story, into the transformative covenant epistemology experience and ongoing conversation. May it heal and bless you too.