The Things I Thought I Knew
Adjusting to life in the United Arab Emirates has not been easy. Though it seems very modern when one looks at its outer veneer, many processes are antiquated and many cultural norms have no Western concept of equality and justice. Not to mention that it is just not “home.”
It is easy, I am finding, to think you know something and find out, in reality, you don’t know it at all.
Which makes me think– what is real knowledge?
In general, the Western mind since the Enlightenment sees knowledge primarily as “the circumstance or condition of apprehending truth or fact through reasoning” (one of the definitions given Merriam-Webster.com). My knowledge of a topic or thing is predicated on a mental, conscious understanding.
My experiences settling in here show me that knowledge can have little to do with reality. To be sure, knowledge, by the definition above, must be one step removed from the reality; a mental concept of a reality is not the reality itself.
The reason this all seems so pertinent is because of both the reality of settling into life here and how my spiritual views have changed lately.
I thought I knew life in the United Arab Emirates. I have a knowledge of the culture and Islam. I visited Dubai many times in the past 6 years. But the reality of living it and experiencing it is far different from the knowledge of it.
To the ancient Hebrews knowledge meant, not a mental understanding of something, but an intimate experience with and a deep connection to a something. (That’s why the Bible uses the word “know” to indicate sexual intimacy: e.g. “Adam knew his wife” is a literal translation of the Hebrew word in that verse.)
In Eastern Orthodox thinking, trying to understand God mentally is a dangerous thing. The reasoning is that God is completely transcendent. The minute you try to define Him too much you risk being wrong or you become enamored with your idea of God and not God Himself and end up in idolatry. On the other hand however, they believe, God has revealed Himself to us. So, how can one know God but not box Him in?
One of the ways is not to focus on knowing God like we mean by “knowing.” The focus is an intimate relationship with and experience of God, not a mental understanding of his characteristics or modus operandi. They say, “The theologian is the one who prays.” I do not need to think I know “about” God to truly know God.
So, I’m trying to cut back my theological reading, let go of some of my preconceived notions of God’s character and increase my praying.
And, I’m trying to get out and do more things in the UAE, not relying on any preconceived notions: learning as I experience the UAE for what the UAE is. Letting life here be what life here is, not fighting for what I was wanting and/or expecting it to be or not be.
My personality is such that I like to get my head wrapped around things, understand them as much as possible. I always want to know the “whys” and “hows.”
Sometimes understanding has little to do with knowledge but more to do with living life.