Tuesday, December 15, 2020


 The boughs wait in emptiness

For their shame to be covered

Stillness broken by cold wind,

Distant crickets keeping time,

And the highway's din.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

I Lift Mine Eyes (adaptation of Psalm 121)

From my anxiety and darkness I look up to where the mountaintop touches the clouds, sailing across the face of the noonday sun.

I look there and see His hands, from which comes my help.

Oh, come soon, Yahweh. Make haste to help me. Maranatha, One who formed the dry land, the heavens, the water above the heavens, the elohim you have placed there, the lesser lights.

Yahweh makes your steps firm on sure and steady ground.

It is true, true. Yahweh keeps the child of his promise, even Israel. He is ever wakeful and watchful. No sleep shall overcome him.

Yahweh is your protector, the one whose shadow shelters you in your presence at all times.

During the day, you are safe in his shade, and in the night, you are safe in his hands.

From the wicked one , Yahweh guards you. Each moment of your life he watches over you.

When you come in and go out, from now until forever more, Yahwaeh watches over you.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Cries of Lament

 "Lament is the path that takes us to the place where we discover that there is no complete answer to pain and suffering, only Presence."- Michael Card, 'A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching out to God in the Lost Language of Lament'

“Lament is the honest cry of a hurting heart wrestling with the paradox of pain and the promise of God’s goodness.” — Mark Vroegop, 'Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy'

“I am beginning to see that much of praying is grieving” - Henri Nouwen

Late have I loved you,

Beauty so ancient and so new,

late have I loved you!

Lo, you were within,

but I outside, seeking there for you,

and upon the shapely things you have made

I rushed headlong –I, misshapen.

You were with me, but I was not with you.

They held me back far from you,

those things which would have no being,

were they not in you.

You called, shouted, broke through my deafness;

you flared, blazed, banished my blindness;

you lavished your fragrance, I gasped; and now I pant for you;

I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst;

you touched me, and I burned for your peace.

When at last I cling to you with my whole being there will be no more anguish or labor for me, and my life will be alive indeed, alive because filled with you. But now it is very different. Anyone whom you fill you also uplift; but I am not full of you, and so I am a burden to myself. Joys over which I ought to weep do battle with sorrows that should be matter for joy, and I do not know which will be victorious. But I also see griefs that are evil at war in me with joys that are good, and I do not know which will win the day. This is agony, Lord, have pity on me! It is agony! See, I do not hide my wounds; you are the physician and I am sick; you are merciful, I in need of mercy.

Is not human life on earth a time of testing? Who would choose troubles and hardships? You command us to endure them, but not to love them. No-one loves what he has to endure, even if he loves the endurance, for although he may rejoice in his power to endure, he would prefer to have nothing that demands endurance. In adverse circumstances I long for prosperity, and in times of prosperity I dread adversity. What middle ground is there, between these two, where human life might be free from trial? Woe betide worldly prosperity, and woe again, from fear of disaster and evanescent joy! But woe, woe, and woe again upon worldly adversity, from envy of better fortune, the hardship of adversity itself, and the fear that endurance may falter. Is not human life on earth a time of testing without respite?

On your exceedingly great mercy, and on that alone, rests all my hope.

- Augustine, Confessions Book 10

The Lesser Evil

Your sweet Amens rose up to the ether

When I heard the great doors slam shut

On the faces of souls yearning to breathe

And walk the streets of liberty.

Your burning incense wafts from high places,

Whence Moloch devours the innocents

And Asherah her carnal delight chases

'Mid the fallen ruins of time.

Did freedom ring from the once lofty heights,

When your soul was torn, cast lots for,

Mocked by darkness, as your fortunes you weighed

Between Scylla and Charybdis?

Or did you glance at the dim reflection,

Or hear the whisper of the voice,

In your youth ineffably seen and heard,

Now lost in the din of Babel?

Monday, July 29, 2019

All That's Past- Poem by Walter de la Mare

Very old are the woods;
And the buds that break
Out of the brier's boughs,
When March winds wake,
So old with their beauty are—
Oh, no man knows
Through what wild centuries
Roves back the rose.

Very old are the brooks;
And the rills that rise
Where snow sleeps cold beneath
The azure skies
Sing such a history
Of come and gone,
Their every drop is as wise
As Solomon.

Very old are we men;
Our dreams are tales
Told in dim Eden
By Eve's nightingales;
We wake and whisper awhile,
But, the day gone by,
Silence and sleep like fields
Of amaranth lie.

Walter de la Mare

Ah! Sun-flower- Poem by William Blake

Ah Sun-flower! weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the Sun:
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the travellers journey is done.

Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow:
Arise from their graves and aspire,
Where my Sun-flower wishes to go.

Thursday, February 21, 2019


I said:  How can I escape?
With the freed sighs to forget
The dark and creeping heave?

Where could he be, at this hour
When such unwelcome wolves at the door,
And breath waits on battered resignation?

I heard someone say, of exiles at the Holocaust,
how they heard he was with them there
On his cross, sharing it with them.

I sighed again, and went deeply inward
Into where the sadness lurked,
In the small curved fetal pose.

In the trembling warmth and the tremor,
The rhythmic sound of tensed nostrils,
I sat with him, both of us alone in the darkness

But for each other. Amen.

Monday, December 31, 2018

At the End of 2018

Stephen Crane wrote:

A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”

At the end of 2018, I think of this:

God said to me:
"Child, I Am!"
"However", said I,
"Am content to see, tinker and hold forth
And not look learn, admire and be transformed."

At the end of 2018, may I be content to know by seeing, with veiled face yet, but anticipating the indeterminate future manifestations of this great Other, the I AM, who introduces himself to me and invites me to know him.

For Crane's 'man' to speak to the 'universe' implies personal knowledge, and for the universe to reply implies the need for a response.

In reality, it is God who takes the initiative to invite the man and the man who must reply to receive it.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Notes on Loving to Know- Covenant Epistemology by Esther Lightcap Meek


Loving to Know- Covenant Epistemology, by Esther Lightcap Meek
Hardcover: 540 pages
Publisher: Wipf and Stock (June 1, 2011)
ISBN-10: 1498213243
ISBN-13: 978-1498213240

[VJ Comments: Esther Lightcap Meek points out that most of our thinking around knowledge, how we know what we know, and the process of coming to know, is based on a flawed and destructive premise set in motion by Cartesian thinking. She points out how this has permeated our lives, adversely affected relationships, communities, science, the arts and education. Her extensive study of scholars, mystics, scientists, psychologists, theologians, philosophers, classical writers, and not least the Bible, has led to the development of Covenant Epistemology. The book is heavy with concepts, excerpts and explanations, but is accessible and ultimately rewarding and personally satisfying. At 540 pages it is a daunting read, and one can get lost in the woods. My condensation of the book to 24 pages is an attempt to systematize the narrative but has the distinct disadvantage of depriving the work of its grand scale and progressively revealed, luminous clarity. But this is as much my way of processing through the book, taking several months to read, in between flights at airports, as it has to do with creating a framework to arrange her concepts in a systemic manner.]

·       “Knowing begins with longing”- Esther Lightcap Meek.

·       “Truth is revealed to the knower and the knower opens up to truth. It must take its time. The knower cannot understand truth as if it were an object to uncover.”- Annie Dillard (my paraphrase)
       “Truth is personal - it doesn't reject objectivity but rejects objectivism in knowing. It doesn't reduce truth to knowing facts. Personal knowing, by contrast, is the kind of knowing that is knowing by one person of another.”- Lesslie Newbiggin (my paraphrase)

·        “Truth is relational- to know something is to have a living relationship with it influencing and being influenced by it. Truth descends from Troth (Pledge). It is covenantal. To know is enter into a troth with the other, and to be vulnerable (to be known as well as to know), and therefore enter into a bond not of logic alone but of friendship. This doesn't negate reasoned justification or data collection, but is an essential to prevent their quasi-successful but damaging divorce from personal context.”- Parker Palmer (my paraphrase)


Covenant Epistemology is based on Michael Polanyi's "subsidiary-focal" paradigm. It resolves many long-standing dilemmas in epistemology: between correspondence and coherence approaches to truth; between realism vs antirealism debates; between foundationalist and non-foundationalist epistemologies. Polanyi is not a foundationalist, but is an unfliching realist- an unheard of combination, because his work is not familiar to professional practitioners.

Correspondence theory of truth says the truthfulness of a claim must correspond to reality. Coherence theory says we cannot determine this correspondence, so the truthfulness of a claim must be consistent with other truth claims we consider to be true.

Foundationalism is a proposal about the nature of knowledge- that we must have knowledge of 2 kinds- 1, of an all-important foundation of self-evidently certain claims; and 2, of other claims that can be derived from thus foundation.

Generally, foundationalists are also correspondence theorists. They also generally argue that one must both to be epistemic realists. Epistemic realism says that knowledge is knowledge of objective reality, rather than a mental or social construct or convention.

Subsidiary-Focal Integration: All knowing is the profoundly human struggle to rely on clues to focus on a pattern that we then submit to as a token of reality. Polanyi called this act of finding such clues to find a pattern to take as a token of reality 'integration'. When we identify the pattern, it becomes focal: we focus on it. The clues become subsidiary to the focal pattern.

All acts of coming to know are integrative and transformative, rather than deductive and linear.

A key to understanding a person is knowing what he or she longs for.

Foundationalism, by pointing to the false ideal of explicit knowledge, privileges the focal, and blinds us to the ever-present, ever palpable, ever unspecified subsidiary awareness which alone allows us to sustain knowledge. This is why knowledge is not deductive or linear. If we have connected the dots to form a pattern, any clues which come up later serve to enhance the pattern, not overturn it completely unless there is a real reason to believe that the pattern was entirely false- this is extremely unlikely. If knowledge were merely linear, or explicit, one could argue for such dramatic overturning, but if it forms a pattern then our process of subsidiary-focal integration only serves to clarify the pattern.

Our very sense of the truth of a claim draws both on unspecifiable clues and also on unspecifiable hints of future possibilities.


Tracing the truth based on clues is not foolproof, but we have the skill to navigate using them. Our lives are a tapestry of coming to know. These once-disparate clues are of three sorts: (1) the world; (2) the lived body; and (3) the directions, or normative word. This is just the "perspectival triad" which was proposed by John Frame.

At Point A, the particulars of the body, world and word make no sense. The Known seems exterior, alien and opaque to the Knower. But at Point B, the opacity shifts to transparency, and exteriority shifts to a sense of connection with me, like an internalized familiarity, like second nature.

WORLD: World clues comprise our situation or circumstances that we need to make sense of. The shift from Point A to Point B impact the world clues. I get a sense of the world when I make that shift. I also find myself rooted deeply in the world I come to understand. I also get a sense of future manifestations and new directions in the world. I was reminded of Jesus' disciples in the boat during the storm calling for Jesus to calm it. Jesus does, and their categories get messed up, and they as 'Who can this be, that even the wind and the waves obey him?" Changed circumstances could open up new lines of thought that lead to knowledge.

LIVED BODY: These clues comprise our experiences is using our bodies in some task, like typing on a keyboard. The body is not merely an object (as the Cartesian approach of divorcing the mind from the body says), but we are aware of it is a subject- we know of it subsidiarily than focally. The lived experience is typically not known like a doctor examining it, but by coursding through myriad bodily experiences. At Point A, we feel some extreriority to our bodies, like when we start to learn how to ride a bike, or when we say "I'm all thumbs" when attempting to play the guitar. At Point B, we don't focus on the body- we are in our body knowingly, and our body is knowingly in the world.

DIRECTIONS (THE NORMATIVE WORD): Includes the words of people who guide us, or our historically or societally shaped worldview, or coach who instructs us, or the methodology which we apply to the task at hand, or ideals and goals which inspire us. The novice only half understands directions when she hears them first. Somehow she must indwell them- climb into them, and then having learned the meaning, can use them knowingly, 'normatively', shapingly. Without the normative, no knowing can occur. To "notice" means to apply our gaze on some clues, but not others, such as on the foreground and not the background, for instance. Authoritative guides don't fabricate what is real, and don't teach us to fabricate what is real. They teach us to see what is there.
Normative clues form the dimension in which Covenantal Epistemology is developed. Covenant is by nature interpersonal. Normativity presupposes a context of two or more persons relating interpersonally. Therefore, the Normative Dimension implies a fundamental context: Interpersonhood.

TRIANGULATING: An act of coming to know can originate in any of the above 3 dimensions of body, world or the normative. I could intuit that something is out of place (body), or I may be forced to adapt to a new set of circumstances (world), or I may be faced with unknown concepts (normative). I, as the vector, eventually moves among these dimensions freely in the course of coming to know, in an unfolding, recurring way. This is the act of "triangulating". Our defective default mode of 'objectivism' doesn't let us see this interdimensional movement.
Thus ordinary acts of knowing display the dynamics of subsidiary-focal integration, three interlocking sets of clues, and the knower's unfolding triangulation among them.

Where does knowing start? Empiricists say you start with sense perception. Rationalists say you start with reason. Theologians say you start with God. Subjectivists say you start (and end) with the self. But in reality, knowing could begin in any of the three dimensions, and the act of coming to know requires their plurality and occurs at their intersection.

The Western tradition, which is our defective default, approaches knowing as if knowledge is wholly focal, and therefore restricted to lucid, articulated statements, and as Marjorie Grene puts it, "pieces of information immediately present to the mind, and impersonally transferable from one mind to another".  

[VJ Comments- Something that comes to my own mind is from a recent presentation from Marvel Comics in which the character Tony Stark uploads his entire consciousness into a computer, so even after his body dies, his intellect, passions and pursuits continue through this disembodied consciousness. Clearly a product of the Western epistemic tradition, which believes that knowing is simply holding up a mirror to an extant and fully comprehensible reality.]

Polanyian epistemology understands that tacit clues- the subsidiaries- are epistemically foundational. These may include values, virtues, pre-theoretical commitments (often derided as preconceived notions), traditions, communities, emotions, etc., which in the defective default, would be considered as being detrimental to knowledge, but Polanyi shows us is integral to knowledge. Therefore, to Polanyi, knowing is anticipative through the subsidiaries, not just a still-life reflection of reality.

DICHOTOMIES: The Defective Default presumes that knowing has a dichotomy like a daisy, which has pairs of petals around the center, with one of the pairs over the other. This tradition holds that one is dominant over the other, such as reason being dominant over emotion, in which emotion may be considered to be detrimental to knowledge and reason being supportive of knowledge, or its practitioners think they have to settle for a less than ideal compromise between these two. Polanyi shows us that this is a false dichotomy. The realization that we indwell clues subsidiarily creatively reconnects the pairs that the default divorced- knowledge, fact, science, theory, etc. are contexted and rooted in and outrun by what we took to be extraneous petals like adventure, passion, emotion, art and religion. Responsible belief is the epistemic act.

INTERPERSONAL KNOWING: Something about knowing a person, like a close family member, seems to help us transcend the dichotomy. There is an indeterminacy in truly knowing a person, but still such knowing is palpable. So knowing is not an individualistic activity, rather it is relational. Covenantal Epistemology is built on this idea as well as the Polanyian subsidiary-focal integration as its two loci.


(a) Epistemic Naturalism: This is the proposal that reduces all knowing to physical behavior or brain activity. Cognitive science deals with the idea that 'mental events' are simply brain activity. Pragmatic behaviorism is the idea that mind and knowledge are determined from human behavior, and therefore knowledge can be reduced to it. Both Cognitive Science and Pragmatic Behaviorism reject the Cartesian dualism which dichotomizes mind and body. It does so by  rejecting the mind and replacing it with the body. The best brain studies only deal with the organ, and views it as an object. Polanyi sidesteps the dichotomy by honoring 'personhood' (from the idea of body knowledge as a subsidiary) while benefiting from scientific discoveries about the brain.

(b) Modernism and Postmodernism: Modernism emphasizes reason, logic and objectivity. Postmodernism emphasizes relativism, subjectivism or skepticism. In the metaphor of the daisy, postmodernism rejects the center of the daisy as impossible. Subsidiary-focal integration acknowledges the active contribution of the knower, without rejecting the active contribution of the known. It understands (like the postmodernist) that all knowledge is interpretation, but also that the interpretation is subsidiary and knowledge is focal. Of course, interpretation could be skewed or biased, but good interpretation engages the world, it is an indwelt beachhead in the world.

(c) Realism vs Antirealism: Is our cognitive effort the knowledge of an extramental world or is it just our outlook? This is the summary of the realism vs antirealism debate. Example: Are Copernicus' proposals merely a summary of data, or are they real? In the Cartesian ideal of certainty, 19th century thinkers concluded that it is just a summary of data- this position was called Positivism. For Polanyi, the scientist, this was unacceptable, something which reduced scientific discovery to convenient summaries of data. For Polanyi, even partial knowedge, being a subsidiary, is justified by its transformative and allusive qualities for a future focal to be discovered. It isn't confirmation, says Marjorie Grene, but an intimation of confirmation that testifies to the reality of our findings.

(d) Foundationalism vs Coherentism: Foundationalism posits certain truths as infallible and self-evident, and any other truth claim must be derived from it. Its weakness is identifying any truths which qualify universally as foundational. The Coherentist view is that truth claims are understood to be true if they are mutually consistent, not from any foundational infallibility. Its weakness is being unable to tell if any set of internally coherent statements is inherently true or false. For Polanyi, our beliefs are indeed foundational and rooted, but the foundation itself is a subsidiary. The clue base of any act of knowing is unspecifiable and tacit, not articulated or explicit. It is not certain, it is lived. Polanyi’s alternative to certainty is neither skepticism nor probability. It is lived confidence that roots us in a world and inspires us to responsible risk and profession of truth. It exposes the weakness of Coherentism in that while we do test the relative merit of truth claims by consistency with other such claims, coherentism does not recognize the fact that we do so working tacitly from subsidiary (foundational) awareness behind the explicit claims we are considering.

(e) Religion and Science: For Polanyi, commitment is "a manner of disposing ourselves" toward the as-yet unknown reality. The question of knowing God becomes an accessible question once we realize that knowing anything, including science, becomes a matter of subsidiary-focal integration, not of absolute certainty.


The Knowing event seems to involve a reciprocity between the Knower and the Known. Based on the Polanyian construal, Covenant Epistemology sees the contours of a person in the Knower, the contours of a person in the Known, and the contours of an interpersoned relationship in the Knowing:

Knower: While in general all animals possess sophisticated awareness, only humans pursue and embrace truth responsibly with universal intent, in submission to self-set accreditation and standards; and also encourages further inquiry into the known, along with a "society of explorers" in community. Polanyian epistemology reinstates the person into the process of knowing. But this is because only a person (as opposed to an automaton) has a reality rich enough to combine in a full blend all these aspects of knowing.

Known: Polanyi said of reality as "that which may manifest itself indeterminately in the future." When a person makes any discovery (or makes any kind of focal integrations), the achievement possesses an "ontological aspect," i.e. the knower possesses an an accompanying sense of the possibility of 'Indeterminate Future Manifestations." (the IFM Effect, an acronym coined by Meek). It points us to a sense of hidden dimensions that we can sense, but not name. This confirms to us as knowers that we have made contact with reality, connected with the real. It can feel as if the knower's questions are exploded, not explained. The knower can feel as if he/she is the one being known, that we are being drawn into a relationship we can't govern or control, and we can feel the grace of the reality's self-disclosure, that it was not my wizardry, but the entity's generous choice to grant insight. Along with my questions, I too am changed. When we keep inquiring, we keep knowing- there is reciprocity in knowing when there is somebody at both ends of the exchange.

Knowing: Knowing is like a dance: overture, response, overture, response- a rhythmic reciprocity of growing understanding and movement. Our participating in it involves our subsidiarily sensing our own personhood and in some sense that of the other, and comporting ourselves in such a way as to enhance these in tandem.


Meek draws on the work of James Loder, who wrote the book ‘The Transforming Moment’ about convictional knowing, existential experiences which the Christian has of God. He builds on Polanyi’s subsidiary-focal integration, and says we have this integrative dynamism because (1) it taps into our humanness, (2) it is rooted in human development, and (3) human knowing prototypes, anticipates and actually is an instance of being graciously accepted by God.

Loder says knowing is a transformative event, and involves a five-step sequence, which he attributes to all knowing, including scientific, aesthetic and therapeutic knowing:

(1)    It begins with conflict in context, which is a rupture in our knowing context. Before it happens we experienced an equilibrium of coherence and were amiably making sense of things, but when it happens (through the body, world or normative dimensions), we experience conflict, prompting us to urgently seek a deeper coherence to restore equilibrium. We cannot know what we don’t care about- as Meek said in the beginning, knowing begins with longing.
(2)    The next step is an interlude for scanning, in which we start to indwell the conflicted situation with empathy for the problem, to search methodically for clues to resolve the problem. Polanyi described this as using creative imagination with intuition which gives a sense of increasing proximity to the solution (a longing for the face of the Other).
(3)    Stage 3 is an insight felt with intuitive force, a constructive resolution which reconstitutes the elements of incoherence (moving parts) and creates a new, more comprehensive context of meaning.
(4)    Stage 4 is a release of energy and repatterning, an aha moment, which releases the energy bound up in sustaining the conflict. This is the knower’s response of opening up herself or himself to the resolution. The knower now contemplates, as Polanyi would say, “indeterminate future manifestations.” Loder says the generative human spirit is the “uninvited guest in every meaningful knowing event” and the dynamic that shapes them all.
(5)    Stage 5 is interpretation, in which the knower relates her/his new vision back to the original conflict and to gain its acceptance with the general public. Because the knowing event has been transformative, the knower is passionately compelled to do this.
Loder argues that the “eikonic eclipse”, our defective default that exalts rationalism to the status of a ‘focal’ rather than relegating it to a ‘subsidiary’, is counter-productive to true knowing and humanness.

On Mutuality and Reciprocity: Loder says that true objectivity lies in mutual indwelling of both the subject and the object, not being separate. The knowing event has a dyadic (an I and a You) as well as a cooperative aspect, in which the reciprocity is not heavy-handed or controlling. The knower comes to know himself or herself in the fact of the other. The prevailing paradigm of knowledge as being impersonal leads us to overlook these personal and interpersonal dimensions.

Abraham Joshua Heschel suggested that unlike the Greeks who learn in order to comprehend, the Hebrews learn in order to be apprehended- because what transforms us is not a what, but a who. Teachers don’t teach information, they teach themselves.


Covenant Epistemology builds from the above premises and is based on the work of Reformed theologian, John Frame. His Calvinist antidote to modernism serves to build its foundations. Three essential Christian tenets to understand prior to delving into this:

1.       Creator-creature distinction and its implications: God is ontologically independent, needing no point of reference beyond himself, transcendent and is self-contained (in three persons, united, co-eternal and equally ultimate); and the creation is ontologically dependent on God. Because creation is dependent on him, every molecule or atom is his creation, and speaks of him. This is termed general revelation. This tenant about act of creation is not referring to the question of origins in the scientific sense. The latter is a question (Let there be) is prescriptive, not descriptive. It follows that every second of creation’s existence constitutes God’s ongoing ‘let there be’-ing, i.e. by virtue of a covenant relationship with him. Created entities have distinctive characters, the “way they are supposed to be”. This is what I understand as normative, a rule standard or pattern.

2.       God as Covenant Lord: From our understanding of ancient Near Eastern covenants, the language of Scripture is covenant language, and the Covenant head (the covenant partner who definitively shapes the covenant) is God himself. God as Covenant Lord is both transcendent and immanent -intimately present with his creation in what Frame calls covenant solidarity. The heart of this is knowing God as Lord and being in covenant with him. The goal of knowing God is friendship. Because God as the covenant head shapes the covenant, the creation’s very existence is its covenant response, even unintentionally as when the creation doesn’t believe in him. All human action and knowing is covenant response. The relationship of the creation to God is unmediated and intimate. Sin is Scripture’s word for covenant rebellion. All of life is about knowing God. Intimacy, praise, trust and obedience are intentional covenant responses to him.

3.       Humans as two-way representatives: Humans represent God to creation as agents (imago dei) and also represent creation to God. As imagebearers, we are stewards reflecting God in a derivative way by caring for and nurturing creation (called the cultural mandate). Human knowing is stewardly, covenant response. Therefore, all human knowing is profession or confession, something that integrally requires a stance of belief. This is because our knowing is derivative, and distinct from God’s divine knowing. It is not appropriate to say that God has the truth, but that God is truth. Our job as knowers is not to get it right, but to know God intimately as the truth or ‘in troth’, as Parker Palmer would say.

Frame frames knowing God as covenant Lord a triad: (1) knowing his authority, expressed in his law (or in the Meekian contrual, the normative word), (2) his control in his works (the world), and (3) in his presence in ourselves as knowers (the body). This triad evocatively aligns with other triads in Scripture- prophet (authority), priest (presence) and king (control); the persons in the Trinity- the Father (as the Law giver, representing authority), the Son (his incarnation bringing him into the world among us, representing control) and the Holy Spirit (his ministry as God with us, representing presence). God’s ongoing creative act involves him in all 3 ways: he words interpretively the world into existence; he thus controls all of it; and he is present with it in sustaining it. Our every epistemic act involves all three of these dimensions, distinguishable but never separable.

All this has 3 correlativities: (1) Knowing the world is correlative with knowing God (since God is covenant Lord, there is nothing in the world we cannot now without knowing God- the world reveals God as authoritatively as Scripture does); (2) Knowing the world is correlative with knowing the self, as well as with knowing a standard (since knowing involves indwelling the subject and the object according to standard criterion, we covenantally interpret, whether using good or bad interpretative frameworks); (3) Knowing God is correlative to knowing oneself (as ontologically dependent beings).


Polanyi’s proposals help us understand religious terms like faith and commitment. Martin Luther said at the Diet of Worms, “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise.” Polanyi cites this as expressing the act of upholding a truth claim by exercising great personal responsibility, yet being simultaneously compelled by submission to reality. Commitment here is a “manner of disposing ourselves”, our personal assimilation whereby we press an existing framework into subsidiary service, indwelling it to extend ourselves in pursuit of the yet-to-be-known. Commitment refers to the clues we indwell subsidiarily in pursuit of a focal pattern. Faith is just what we do in knowing, an epistemic act engendered by commitment.

Polanyi paints the picture of a scientist in pursuit of an as-yet-undiscovered reality. He raises Plato’s awkward Meno Dilemma, which the western tradition has not yet satisfactorily answered. How do you come to know? We either know something or we don’t. if we do, we don’t need to move toward knowing it. If we don’t, we cannot move toward knowing it. To Meek, the dilemma only confirms that there is more to knowing than we are able to articulate- there must be anticipative knowledge.” Polanyi concludes that the paradigmatic case of the scientific knowledge is the knowledge of an approaching discovery, where a discoverer is filled with a compelling sense of responsibility for the pursuit of a hidden truth, which demands his services for revealing it- in other words, it demands his commitment to a half-understood, but already revealing reality. 

This makes sense of how one can look back on how she may have known God even before coming to know God. When she does come to now God, she may experience surprising recognition and find herself the one having been known. Catholic mystic Simone Weil said in her essay, ‘Forms of the Implicit Love of God’, that there must be some kind of love of God going on in people before they come to realize they are loving God, including in their love of beauty, true friendship and care of neighbor.

Polanyi said all knowing is perspectival. In the Framean triad, one may view truth from the normative (directions), situational (world) or existential (body) perspectives. We may position ourselves at the situational and view the normative from there, or view the existential from the situational. If we retain a sense of what we are viewing from where, we can hold the two together in subsidiary-focal integration. We can speak of revelation of God from nature, of nature from God, of God from man, of man from nature, etc. Orienting ourselves in the from-to delineation is the main thing. Christians often hold to the doctrine of antithesis, which says that humans can’t be indifferent to God, but are either in submission to or in rebellion against God, so an unbeliever’s stance is antithetical to a believer’s, and therefore each side considers the other’s opinion as biased. Another, more optimistic principle held by Christians is that of Common Grace, the implication of which is that because God is Lord of all, it is impossible for any human in rebellion to fully succeed at rebelling, lest we should cease to exist (assuming God sustains every atom of reality)! To bring these two together, God is like a magnetic true north. A compass pointing northward may get pulled in wrong directions, in rebellion. Part of us points to God (common grace), and part of us doesn’t.


Theologian Mike Williams offers believers a coherent grasp of Scripture in his idea of the covenant as unfolding relationship, such as the covenant of friendship or marriage (not a mere economic contract). The Scriptures use this word (berith = covenant) 286 times, where the context is one of friendship and God’s self-disclosure. These are the components of God’s covenant:

Mutuality: Initiative and Purpose: God initiates it- this initiative is sovereign and gracious (not earned), and we respond to it. This interplay is the mutuality present in the covenant.

Historical: Yahweh works covenantally through history- the covenant is historical but the past is retained as the relationship develops.

Promises and Obligations: Promises of loyalty and love, and fulfilment of mutual obligations. God binds himself in covenant. In the Biblical covenant, love and loyalty precede law and obligation. The obligatory serves the relational. Covenant relationship is not conditional on the obligation. Obligation proceeds from and in response to God’s sovereign initiative (grace). The Law doesn’t create, but nourishes the relationship. A father’s love for a son may be unconditional, but a son’s flagrant disobedience damages, not nurtures, that relationship. The term Torah means fatherly instruction, in compliance with which is found security and blessing and shalom. Relationship is the context of the normative, not vice versa. What motivates God is not desire for law-keeping, but desire for relationship. The law nurtures this relationship.

Covenant Parties and Mediator: Why should the covenant characterize our dealings with God? Because, God as triune is already 3 persons in relationship. God’s character is relational. He created humans uniquely for relationship and to image him in relationship. But he also created all creation to be bound covenantally to him- the creation account in Genesis (‘Let there be’) shows they are covenanted into existence. But a feature of covenants is that there is a mediator, responsible to embody and bring covenantal promises and obligations to fruition. Humans are designated as agents of God (imagebearers) to care for his creation and to reveal God to creation, to cultivate and voice its praise of him. As humans rebelled, God himself provided a perfect mediator in Jesus, fully God, fully in perfect submission to him, not in rebellion, but fully human, the “second Adam”. Since creation and culture, including human knowing, have been radically bent by rebellion (sin), Jesus’ atonement therefore is central to the renewal of all things (Jesus’ term for it). A human caring for a rose bush is also responding covenantally to God, and mediating his covenant of creation in preserving and developing it.

Not Ascent but Descent: The motion or trajectory of Biblical covenant (unlike what most religions say and many Christians think) is not the first motion of the knower/worshipper ascending to God. It is God descending to us. He descends to covenant creation into existence, to sustain every atom in every moment, to dwell among his people, in the Incarnation, and in the eschaton, the last state- the renewal of all things. The pattern of redemption and the initiative of covenantal relationship is the descent of God.

Tacit but Palpable: Covenantal bonds are often tacit, but palpable. If something looks amiss at my neighbor’s house when she is out of town, I check it out. We trade services, care for each other’s kids. We bind ourselves to faithfulness of a different sort or level, not mediated by law. Friendship is one of the richest covenants, and rare. Deep friendship is intimate covenant love. Intimacy is a mutual self-disclosing, resembling the reciprocity of a dance. It is most palpable when a covenant is broken. Unlike a contract it is difficult to tell when this happens, and can be disputed by one of the partners. The violation may be subtle but is palpably felt. The relationship, not prescriptive actions, makes it covenantal.

Covenant Blessing and Covenant Curse: Scripture indicates that construing human-divine dealings covenantally leads us to expect that keeping the covenant brings shalom, and violating it brings curse as a consequence. Similarly, human knowing could either bless or curse.  Knowing responsibly brings blessing. Knowing irresponsibly brings a curse. In our interactions with the world too, we can bless or curse according to how we know.


This section delves into the concept of interpersonhood, a term coined by Meek, based on John MacMurray’s works. What makes a person? Substantivalism reduces the description of any reality, including humans, into a substance-attribute statement, like ‘a human is a rational animal’. This is an impoverished perspective of persons. Just as all knowing is interpersonal, personhood itself is interpersonal. Even knowledge understood under an impersonal paradigm requires communication so to be verbally articulated, needing more than one person. To transfer the task of logic from the analysis of thought to the analysis of language requires recognizing the mutuality of the personal and its implication, the primacy of action. If language is fundamental to human existence, then the personal cannot be understood in simply organic categories, i.e. that human is an organism. Rather, the self is an agent.

Macmurray wrote that we cannot have an egocentric starting point, construing the Self as the ‘Self-as-Thinker’, of which Descartes’ cogito is typical. From this, no account of the personal is possible. He argues we should be construing the Self as ‘Self-as-Agent’, or replace ‘I think, therefore I am’, with ‘I do, therefore I am’- in other words, move the center of gravity from thought to action. Action by definition is modifying the world with the rational intent to do so. Action is relational and needs an agent to perform. The agent is necessarily in relation with the Other. The Other in this relation must be personal. Therefore persons are constituted by their mutual relations to each other. ‘I’ is only one component of this relationship of mutual interpersonal ‘You and I’.

Interpersonal communication precedes language, as in the case of a newborn needing care and attention, and is comforted by the presence of a caregiver. The child’s first knowledge is the recognition of the Other as “the person or agent of the Person in whom we live and move and have our being.” We are born not fundamentally to an organic existence, but a humanly personal one, as in the case of a mother and child relationship. We never grow out of being persons in relation. We don’t go off to live among trees when we grow up, but we join churches, we have families and friends. The human experience is shared experience, human life is a common life, human behavior is always in reference to a personal Other. The knowledge of the personal Other is the starting point of all knowledge, presupposed at every stage of subsequent development, and the absolute presupposition of all knowledge.

The human child’s first cognition of the Other, not of herself or himself, which comes secondarily, as foundationally connected to the Other, correlated in mutuality, both subordinated to and constitutive of the Other. Macmurray links action (both moving and thinking are part of this) to the baby’s knowledge of the personal Other. To move is to modify the Other, and to know/think is to apprehend the Other. But he says the thinking is constitutive and subordinated to the doing. The theoretical standpoint is constitutive of the practical. In other words, what we think of as knowledge relates as a negative and constitutive aspect to a larger, positive, personal and interpersoned reality. The reason why he considers thinking to be negative is that in thinking we retreat from the apprehension of the Other. This is not negative in the sense that it is bad- but that even though it is needed and vital, because it constitutes a withdrawal to our own thoughts, it is less real. What is real is activity in contact with the Other- touch over imagined vision. In other words, to move from the personal to the impersonal is depreciative, negative, not positive, it is de-personalization. We should not start with the impersonal, and then personalizing or personifying. The impersonal presupposes the personal, and never the other way around. Even so, in thinking, the ‘I’ can never depersonalize itself. The science itself cannot account for the scientist. Therefore, the theoretical standpoint should never be taken to be the original, it should be understood as being constituted within the personal.
[VJ Comments: My own question at this point: Is thinking truly one-dimensional in a Christian view? Isn’t the Other an active participant? I think I understand what Macmurray is driving at here, but will keep this thought warm until it is answered.]

Macmurray says whether God exists is not the question we should be asking, rather it is ‘Is what exists personal?’ The answer is yes, based on 3 axioms: (1) We live in and belong in the world, and we ourselves are personal, and the world that contains us must be construed to be personal. An impersonal world cannot contain the personal. (2) In an impersonal conception of the world, everything “happens”, they are never “done”. There is no meaning to action in such a world- a scientific place has no place for the scientist, and would be an unreal imaginary world, in which we ourselves would cease to exist. A world without persons is not the real world. (3) “I” and “You” are correlative. In action the existence of the self and the Other in practical relation are given. The rule governing the process with which I seek to determine the character of the Other is this: I must see to determine myself and the Other reciprocally by means of the same categories. Thus, the Other is agent as well, and so personal. The world is one action, and its impersonal aspect is the negative, subordinated aspect. To conceive the world in this way is to conceive it as the act of God, and ourselves as created agents.

[VJ Comments: These axioms seem to me to be the same- we ascribe meaning to actions. A geologist looking at a piece of rock is not just recording data. The recording is subordinated to a meaningful act, that of creative and anticipative discovery which has meaning only in a personal world]

Polanyi (a scientist), says Meek, may agree with Macmurray on all but one point- that scientific practice- even the theoretical exercise- involves the personal as much as the baby’s awareness of the Other. For Macmurray, action cannot be fact because action involves intention, and what is intended is always future. Polanyi says that which confirms we have made contact with reality is the intimation of unspecifiable future prospects. This means that knowing on the Polanyian account has the same open-endedness to the future as action does for Murray.

Overlaying Polanyi and Macmurray with the Framean triad, one may say that what humans do is only what servants (creatures, imagebearers, stewards) “do”. In other words, “knowing”, as stewardship, doesn’t simply “happen”, but is “done” coram Deo (in God’s presence). Knowing intimates the presence of God.


Meek introduces early 20th Century intellectual, Martin Buber, whose influential book, “I and Thou” discussed similar concepts to Macmurray. He said a human orients to the world in 1 of 2 ways at a time, “I-It” and “I-You”. In the “I-It” way, we relate to the world objectively, as to “something”. In “I-It”, the subject “I” is the ego, which “experiences” the world. An experience is something that the subject “I” has internally, subjectively. It distances the object “It” from “I”. In the “I-You” mode of existence, “I” don’t experience “You”, but encounter it. In the encounter, I behold, confront and commune with it. In the encounter, “You” and “I” are present to one another in an enduring present; and each acts on the other. The action is self-giving. Each says “You” to the other. All actual life, says Buber, is encounter. In “I-It”, “I” says “this is how I am”. In “I-You”, “I” says, “I am”. For Jewish (as Buber was) or Christian believers, the resonance of “I-You” with God’s name “Yahweh” (I am) cannot be missed. Mike Williams says when God reveals his name to his people he was not making a dispassionate metaphysical statement, but is saying, “I am the One who is present to you, and there for you.” Buber’s translator and student, Walter Kauffman, said, “The only possible relationship with God is to address him and be addressed by him, here and now (or Buber says, in the present). For [Buber], the Hebrew name of God… means he is present… he is there… he is here.” Buber asserts that in calling God Father, Jesus teaches his disciples to do the same, evoking “I-You”.

Buber links the experience of the present, and of being present, together in the “I-You” encounter. He says the actual and fulfilled present exists only in encounter. Only as You becomes present, presence comes into being. By contrast, “I-It” only has a past. Buber says in the “I-You”, “You” fills not only time, but also space. He fills the firmament. There is a timelessness and a transcendence. So the “I-You” involves, being there, or being “at home”. Also, he says, “The You encounters me by grace- it cannot be found by seeking. But that I speak the basic word to it is a deed of my whole being, it is my essential deed.”

In addition to this, Buber concludes like Macmurray does, that to be human is to stand in relation to a You. This suggests that we are both persons and also in need of full-fledged personhood. It takes a You to bring us into full personhood. Buber says this occurs over time through relationships.

Buber says that the I-You encounter can occur in any involvement with the world, such as with nature. There is nothing I “must not see” in order to see. I do not turn away from the ordinary to see the extraordinary. How mistaken to think we must turn away from the world to encounter God, he says. But he says it is not that the world merely is God, only that we encounter the You where and when we are, in this space and time. It is just a different manner of relating to what is there, and is neither mystical nor beyond our reach.in fact it centers our being, the orientation closes to where we are. The I-You encounter brings existential change, transformation. In this the “I” has come to a maturity of self-awareness, at home with itself, and can confront the world, stand its ground in the encounter, while consenting to the being of the Other.

Meek emphasizes that this framework for covenant epistemology, combining insights from Polanyi, Frame, Macmurray, Williams and Buber so far, is not meant to uphold a pantheistic view. She says one cannot espouse a pantheism to affirm the creative richness and mystery of reality created by an infinitely rich God, a reality so rich that its richness reveals God.
Buber adds a helpful insight- The I-You encounter is not expected to last, rather it advances a developing relationship of overture and response (I-It, I-You, I-It, I-You…). But we are expected to bring the I of I-You into all our I-Its, so when we encounter the You, we say with the newness of anticipation, “So it’s You”.

[VJ Comments: This section reminds me of Annie Dillard’s comments on Mountains Beyond Mountains, Tracy Kidder’s book on Dr. Paul Farmer: “[It] unfolds with the force of gathering revelation”. Something about truth, revealed in fiction or a life narrative has this sense.]

Meek adds that all this has implications for how we learn. We learn in community, so serious study should not be an insular, solitary practice, but instead like that of the Rabbinic tradition. “Make thee a master, get thee a companion and a judge,” says Pirke Aboth, the sayings of the fathers. Both a master guide as well as companion learners are needed- these are our ‘covenant friends’.


Meek returns to James Loder. She had previously discussed several of his insights, including the 5 stages of knowing (Conflict in Context; Scanning; Insight Felt with Intuitive Force; Release; Interpretation). Loder adds another (higher level) layer of 4 items which he designates as existential experiences that a person has of the Holy Spirit: the Knowing Event, Four Dimensions of Humanness; Convictional Knowing; and Human Development. The first 5 categories (stages of knowing) detailed the Knowing Event, the first item of this higher layer. The other 3 items are below:

Four Dimensions of Humanness: These exist prototypically in us from birth, but full-fledged four-dimensionality is something to be developed, therefore it is possible to be human and not-yet-fully-human. Also, remarkably, Loder says to be fully human, one needs both an experience of the void, as well as an experience of the Holy. Dimension 1 is embodiment in a composed environment (Loder calls this the world, but it includes our situatedness in it- the lived world). Dimension 2 is the Self. Loder says it is common for humans to live in these first 2 dimensions. This two-dimensionality reflects our common everyday activities, school, job, family, fun, career success and so. These are weak in comparison to the third dimension. Dimension 3 is the possibility of annihilation, the potential and inevitable absence of one’s being- “the void”, the threat of non-being, the implicit aim of conflict, absence, loneliness, death, near-death experiences, crises of faith, mid-life crises and many other factors beyond our control. The void is implicit the moment the lived world is ruptured and the process of transformational knowing begins. It initiates the struggle to know, and not necessarily evil in itself, but that which evil, in our bentness, is sometimes the only possible way to bring us to understand. Dimension 4 is the Holy. The earlier 5 stages of the Knowing Event can be juxtaposed against these 4 dimensions (‘Conflict in Context’ takes place in the lived world and self-as-ego; ‘Scanning’ in the void; Insight and Release and Interpretation in the Holy). The Holy is the reason why we don’t give up living in the face of the void. On the verge of the chasm of the void, we experience the gracious reversal of its undertow. The Holy is the manifest Presence of being-itself transformed and restoring human being as it recomposes the world in the course of transformational knowing, like the self, anchored on the Rock. This includes the conversion experience but is not limited to it-  every act of coming to know is a grappling with the void and embracing the Holy.

Convictional Knowing: The Holy Spirit, in gracious complementarity with the human spirit, often takes knowing events (they are his medium) and transforms the transforming into convictional knowing events. This is only possible through the redeeming knowledge of Christ, but other transforming events are proximate forms and participate sacramentally insofar as they are visible forms of that invisible and infinite truth. Loder says that at the central of a knowing event is a nonrational intrusion of a convincing insight. The knowing event is a prototype of knowing God. This transformative knowledge of Christ is experienced repeated in the Eucharist, which may take the following corresponding steps to the stages of knowing: (1) I am in the world (conflict in context), (2) I need rescue from sin and death (scanning), (3) Jesus plunges in and undoes the Void with his fullness (insight), and (4) I respond and enjoy communion with him (release and interpretation). Loder adds that this convictional knowing is not what is envisioned in Eastern religions- for one, the end result is the communion of two persons, not one- the consummate Christian experience is God with us, not God is us. Second, Loder shows how Jesus’ walk with his unnamed disciples on the Emmaus Road and breaking the bread illustrates the convictional knowing event on all four dimensions of humanness, and centers it firmly on the Eucharist.

Human Development (or, The Face of the Other): Loder challenges typical accounts of human development, in which only the first two dimensions of humanness (the lived world and the self) are considered, which he says is damagingly false, and needs to consider the void and the Holy. Without these, it suffers from a loss of Face, and hence its denial of person-centeredness. Loder’s account showcases the face of the Other. He typifies this in the example of a child, in which (1) the infant responds to the presence of a Face with a smile (context), then senses the absence of the Face (conflict), throughout life, experiences the primal longing for the Face that will not go away (scanning), recenters the personality in the Face of the Other (insight and release), and the ego is miraculously transformed into a self that gives love (interpretation). Loder also says that in the process of human development, there is danger on every side- on one side, abandonment, or a lecherous or some other sort of gaze that induces shame, and on the other side, development into idolatry, in which the person tries to make the other person into the missing face of God. In our bentness, anything can go wrong and it takes time to recover and heal. Some may become unbelievers. But when healing comes, it takes the form that Loder describes. The Aaronic benediction reflects this: “The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make his face to shine upon you and give you peace; The Lord lift his countenance upon and be gracious to you.”


Loder says that he would like to see someone explore transformational logic as the key to Biblical narrative, not just in the cases of individual or communal transformation, as with the men on Emmaus Road, or Paul on his  way to Damascus, or Thomas, but the way we tell the whole story as Yahweh’s redemptive relationship with his people. In Reformed circles, this takes the narrative of Creation (context), Fall (conflict and scanning), Redemption (insight and release), Restoration or consummation (interpretation) and Mission (my addition- this may be part of interpretation). This pattern is evident throughout the Bible, typified in the Exodus narrative as the Israelites  cross the Red Sea and the Egyptians face the void in terror, and Yahweh frees his people in such a way that they actually have a choice to respond to him in love- giving a prototype of what central redemptive act in Christ would look like. Again, Christians speak of the time between Christ’s first and second as the “already and not yet”, that is, the void, longing, and beginning of transformation. People have said in jest, “It’s turtles all the way down” of cosmogony. What Meeks says here is, “It’s relationship all the way down- and all the way along.”

A sense of personal beauty is a kind of self-knowledge, arising from a successful knowing event, available to all human beings- both as humans in relationship and especially for those who have been redemptively known by God. It comes in the generous, self-giving gaze of another person. Loder explicitly links beauty with the experience of convictional knowing. This is God’s gift, a quality of completeness, a sense of no lack. Knowing brings beauty out of chaos. Also, as the person is constituted in the gaze of the other, the person takes on “the character of being”. This must be what the woman at well in Samaria experienced, in the face of Jesus. It was the noticing regard, not the naming of her sins, which caught her attention. [VJ Comments: And, I think, for Martha’s sister, Mary, the tax collector Levi, Zacchaeus, Peter and others who were called by Jesus.]

John and Staci Eldredge argue that every little girl asks a haunting question, “Am I lovely?”. From her father in particular, for the sake of her lifetime wholeness, she needs an affirmative response. But this sense of personal beauty is needed by all humans, and it is never too late to re-center a life through an I-You encounter. Simone Weil asserts that in our human acts of creative attention we image God the Creator.


Psychologist David Schnarch talks about ‘differentiation’, a process of maintaining ourselves in close interpersonal relationship. It involves grinding off our rough edges through the normal abrasions of long-term intimate relationships. The well-differentiated person has the ability to stay in connection without being consumed by the other person, allowing each to function more independently and interdependently. It means going forward with one’s own self-development while being concerned about the other’s well-being. It moves forward through holding on to one’s self of self in intense, emotional relationships. Schnarch alludes to a mysterious spiritual element in this, asking, “What is this trial by fire is the integrity-building path of differentiation?” People whose identity is inappropriately dependent upon their relationship don’t facilitate the development of those they love.

Sociologist David Riesman described the distinguishable social characters he termed “inner-directed“ and “other-directed”. Inner-directed societies tend to acquire early in life an internalized set of goals, to which they conform. This happens in transitional (not traditional) societies. In Other-directed societies, people tend to be sensitized to the expectations and preferences of others, to which they conform (typically in societies of incipient population decline). Riesman says that though Other-directed personalities may seem less desirable than Inner-directed ones, they are both flawed. The former may have internalized something as much as the latter, who may really be other-directed. Independence is really “in-dependence”. In place of these categories, Riesman advocates the autonomous person, for whom autonomy is a heightened self-consciousness which enables her/him to orient with respect to the connectedness while transcending it (similar to Schnarch’s idea of differentiation), or in other words, to operate in a social order without being part of it.


Paradoxes: Trinitarian theologians, especially John Zizioulas and Colin Gunton, link ‘interpersonal personhood’ with the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. They say that the Trinity is best understood as persons on relation, and if we profess the Trinity as the ultimate reality, then humans as beings-in-communion reflect this original. Gunton aspires to bring cultural and societal healing with his proposed cosmic dynamism of perichoresis (relationship of the three persons of the Trinity). To that end he attempts to diagnose and address the paradoxes of modernity. He is concerned about how the human and non-human worlds are alienated from each other, resulting in crises like environmental damage. Other paradoxes involve how modernity can be committed to freedom, but ends in totalitarianism, how we could have so much leisure and yet live at a frantic pace, and how at the end of a tradition committed to truth and meaning can come to lose both. In his book ‘The One, The Three and The Many’, he asks, what is reality fundamentally? Ancient Greeks considered three alternatives. Is it fundamentally a monism (as Parmenides said) - everything reduces to one immaterial, rational thing? Or is it ultimately a pluralism (as Heraclitus said)- nothing reduces to anything, so you have a plurality of ultimate things? Or is reality dual (Plato said), with one part being one (immaterial and unchanging), and the other many (material and changing)?

Platonic Thought: Some (not all) early Christian theologians (such as Augustine) allowed Plato to shape their Christianity, rather than the other way around. As a result, the God of Scripture was aligned with Plato’s one, and material creation was deemed to be the many (plural) and accorded little intrinsic value. The problem of the one and the many is that if you overdo one the other disappears. In the modern era, people rejected the one. Because of the early (and defective) Christian alignment of the one with the transcendent God, they rejected him as the one. Gunton says much modern social and political thought can be understood as the revolt of the many against the one, or humanity against divinity, leading to the Enlightenment ascendancy of human reason as the uniter of all. But this meant the human mind was now the immanent one, set against the materiality of many, both bodies and the world. Post-modern thought then inevitably rejected all forms of the one, immanent and transcendent, in order to recover the many, in the process presuming to celebrate the individual but reducing all individuals to relatively valueless similitude. The ideal of the human mind has both endured and self-destructed, leading to paradoxes- the ideal of certainty in objective knowledge devolving into suspicion, freedom disappearing into collectivism and bondage.

Trinitarian Perichoresis: Gunton makes a distinction between individualism and particularity. The former is non-relational, self-centered and mistaken today for freedom. The latter calls for a fundamental understanding of reality, in which particulars receive their fullest expression only in a freeing space accorded in their relation to one another. Without the relationship, there is no freeing space, and no opportunity for the particulars to be expressed. Gunton contends that this dynamic is what we have in the Trinity. In creation God the Father spoke creation into existence, but creation is also Christological (involving Christ) and pneumatological (involving the Holy Spirit). The Trinity is characterized by relation without absorption. Their uniqueness is a function of their relatedness. Since creation comes about and is sustained by the Son and Spirit, with the Father, creation can be expected to bear the mark of this relational being. The concept that evocatively captures this mutually constitutive being and diverse working is the Greek word perichoresis (dancing around). In this dance, Christ is the Logos (word) spoken into time from eternity, and the immanent dynamic of meaning holding time and space together. The Spirit enables boundary-crossing, the openness of one to the other, to be shaped by the other. The Spirit also works to maintain, strengthen and develop particularity, giving freedom in community (not in a collective), as the source of autonomy, not homogeneity. We live in a perichoretic universe, sustained by gift-giving. The unity of this dance showcases the particularity of each partner in the dance, distinct and unique yet each inseparably bound with other (and ultimately all) particulars, whether they are human or non-human. If the notion of particularity seems strange to us, it is likely due to the exigencies of the translation of Green into Latin. The Greek Christian Fathers used the word hypostasis to refer to particularity in the Trinity. The Latin rendered this as substance, misleading us to favor homogeneity over particularity. Knowledge was taken to be universal in its oneness.


Following Gunton, for knowing to be healthy, it should display this perichoretic dynamism.
Gunton associates foundationalism with modern monism, which devalues the particular and lauds a homogenous universal certainty. He associates non-foundationalism with postmodern pluralism, which in seeking to honor particular perspectives, often reduces knowledge to fideism (or that knowledge depends on faith or revelation only). Both approaches share the same presupposition of the false dichotomy between the one and the many, and ignoring the relationality between them. He says we need an account of knowledge that is both universal and objective, while acknowledged to be the work of fallible human minds. Gunton agrees with Polanyi and confirms the Framean mission of construing human knowing as a creaturely endeavor. To say p is to say I believe p. A truth claim is a truth claimed. However, this does not mean privatizing truth. Polanyi develops a helpful approach- he speaks of holding our beliefs responsibly, with universal intent. We must accept responsibility for our claims, while at the same time we are also committing ourselves to their truth, and to the conviction that anyone else in our position would be able to see that they are true. This is a perichoretic and healing dynamic, allowing for errors to be held as shaping our position rather than overturning it.


Summing up our understanding so far, Meek offers the following:
1.       We in the West have a defective epistemic default that needs reorientation.
2.       Knowing is subsidiary-focal integration, and transformative. As such it can be seen to be fraught with the personed.
3.       Knowing has a normative dimension, which is covenantal.
4.       Covenant metonymously references an interpersonal relationship, which unfolds dynamically and is profoundly akin to subsidiary-focal integration.
5.       Interpersonhood involves persons as beings-in-communion, I-You encounters, the void-Holy dynamic, the face of the Other, and perichoresis.
6.       The real is metonymously personal. As such it is especially suited to being known by a knowing that is fraught with the interpersoned.

Meek proceeds to outline Covenant Epistemology in the standard manner in which epistemological proposals are presented- involving the objects, source, nature and justification of knowledge, even as such terms betray the defective default in such proposals.


Meek says one of the most important questions regarding knowing is whether in our knowing we access the real. If the answer is no, then what we are doing is not knowing, and not worth the effort. Answering yes is epistemic realism, and answering no is epistemic anti-realism. Covenent Epistemology (CE) is a fresh way to espouse realism. Anti-realists say that our epistemic efforts do not access an independently existing objective world because our epistemic efforts are always shaped by our interpretation. Meek says this is a non-sequitur, as simply because our knowing is an interpretive, embodied, situated, traditioned viewpoint does not mean it does not engage the world, but that it is precisely due to our view-point-beachhead that we do access the world. Some anti-realists go even further, arguing for extreme subjectivism (I know only my subjective viewpoint), relativism (What I take to be true is only relative to my situation), or skepticism (What I “know” isn’t really knowledge, just opinion). Critical realism, on the other hand, names the active contributions of the human mind to knowing (following Immanuel Kant’s Critiques), the knower’s hermeneutic bent, social setting and other qualifications concerning what we can’t really know of what reality in itself is.

Covenant Realism: CE offers a fresh way to be a realist, having reoriented the dichotomous default that opposes mind and body, emotion and reason, knowledge and belief, etc.- and therefore, it is possible to take a stand which doesn’t share the negative outlook of anti-realists or critical realists. Meek proposes the term ‘Covenant Realism’ (CR), which has the following theses: In our knowing, we access the real- in fact, the real has transformative primacy in our knowing. Our knowing relationship with the real displays covenantal features, which by definition pertain in interpersoned relationship. Thus good knowing practices involve covenantally interpersonal excellence, and is about mutual transformation than about exclusively information-collecting. The goal if human exchange with the world is not exhaustive certainty, but dynamic, mutually healing communion. And finally, reality itself responds favorably to covenantally appropriate overtures (not to criticism, but to covenant faithfulness). The real is metonymously personal. Meek adds here that great lovers make great knowers, because CE and CR see the real as one seeks a person.

Covenant Ontology: Everything that exists is covenantally charactered- it has defining features that we must uncover and live covenantally on the terms of in order to know it and bless it and us in the process. This is the distinctive implication of a biblical vision of creation. In this we are fundamentally engaged in love, care, friendship and fidelity. Everything is thus covenantally constituted, in covenant relationship to its Creator. Yet every real thing is itself and not another thing- it has its own integral particularity, thanks to the asymmetric perichoresis that reflects the Holy Trinity. The Real wants to be known, so we discover to our surprise that far from being the ones coming to know, we are coming to be known. Someone Else besides us is home in the universe. There is no corner where a recalcitrant knower may hide from this possibility. [VJ Comment: I recently saw a quote from Bertrand Russell, himself an objectivist: “Mathematics, rightly viewed, possess not only truth but supreme beauty”. The truth that we may not hide from the possibility of an encounter with the interpersoned Real is brought home quite clearly]. Goethe’s hailing the rosebush – “So! It’s You!”- indicates this penchant of the real to gracious self-disclosure. On a biblical schema, that transcendent Other, the Somebody Else is Yahweh, the triune God, who when we have sought him, we find he has been seeking us.


(a)    All knowing is fraught with the interpersoned; (b) Knowing is varyingly personal- it comes in 2 forms: one is explicitly interpersonal (I-You), and the other is metonymously personal (I-It)- and by calling knowing ‘varyingly personal’, Meek voices her creative synthesis of the 2 forms within an unfolding personal relationship studded with I-You transformative moments over a knowing trajectory constituted by faithful covenant over time; (c) All knowing is coming to know, a being on its way to truth; and along the way, knowing may be anticipative and implicit, hinting unspecifiably of more, surprising and deeper dimensions; (d) Knowing is covenantally constituted, with active and shaping overtures that invite reciprocally shaping self-disclosure of the real in response; (e) Knowing is perichoretically rhythmical- more than one pair is perichoretically balanced: relationality and particularity, love and covenant, knower and known, overture and response; (f) Knowing is Subsidiary-Focal transformative integration; (g) Knowing transforms both the knower and known.

(b)    In addition to the above characteristics of knowing, this understanding of knowledge has some corollaries: (a) Knowing is knowing God, knowing the world and knowing the Self; (b) All knowing is ‘knowing with’; (c) Human knowing is creaturely knowing (not divine knowing)- it involves no ultimate or absolute anchor of certainty, but nevertheless (actually not nevertheless, but because of this) is capable of responsible stewardship of the real.

(c)     CE challenges the default epistemic challenges raised in the beginning of the book which deals in false dichotomies between: (a) Knowledge and Belief (Belief just is the epistemic act, the risky, responsible, inspired act of coming to know); (b) Knowledge and Opinion (To the extend that a distinction between responsible and irresponsible knowing is envisioned, we are called to stewardly, wholistically expert, knowing for shalom; (c) Fact and Value (Apart from value, the responsible, interpretive commitments of the knower, and the knower’s noticing which assigns value to certain clues, there are no facts; (d) Fact and Interpretation (interpretation unlocks the real, and is the same as facts); (e) Reason and Faith (CE recasts reason to involve integrally responsible submission to the not-yet-fully-known, i.e. faith); (f) Reason and Emotion: Not all emotion is discussed, but implied emption like longing and desire constitutively drive effort to know, and is intertwined in CE with reason; (g) Science and Art (Where the knowing event is recognized to be transformative, scientific acts of discovery and artistic acts of creativity are in substance the same). Meek similarly reconciles other seeming opposites- such as Male and Female (while insisting on their particularity and complementing natures); Objective and Subjective; Theory and Practice; Appearance and Reality; Mind and Body, and many others.


Typical introductions to epistemology list the sources to knowledge as being reason (rationalism), sense perception (empiricism), and sometimes utility (pragmatism). Testimony is often dismissed (following Kant’s Sapere Aude!- Dare to be wise) as being a source in childhood, meant to be superseded in adulthood. CE redefines both the rational and the empirical in a manner profoundly consonant with testimony.

Proximate Sources: CE acknowledges a rough correspondence among the 3 dimensions of sources- the world, the lived body and the normative (also corresponding to rationalism, empiricism and testimony). But CE integrates and transforms each of these to be a different sort of collaborative enterprise. CE understands these dimensions to be not ultimate or surefire sources, but only proximate sources, sources only as we relate to them subsidiarily. They are not sufficient conditions or efficient causes, for knowing is never linear or guaranteed. We steward what we have, humbly groping in the direction of the longed-for integration. But when it comes, it comes from the “outside”. Meek says this leads her to suggest there are 2 different sort of sources, which she terms Candidacy and the Intrusion of the Other.

Candidacy: Knowledge is not to be derived from sources, so much as graciously disclosed in response to covenantal candidacy, the effort to put ourselves “in the way of knowing”, by creatively indwelling clues. Meek says that we may “invite the real” through covenantal behavior, which she expounds on later. The question is not, where do I get knowledge, but how do I comport myself to invite it? Source is an ill-fitted word to express transformative knowing.

The Intrusion of the Other: There is something in the dynamism of knowing to which the word source applies radically, but it isn’t the knower. The transformative aspect of knowing leaves us with the palpable sense that the we did not instigate the knowing event except in a stewardly way, and the source was the Other. Loder says of this, ”the self is caught in the act of knowing.” He further aphorizes, “the truth always exceeds the proof.” Meek says we need not despair that we cannot define a source the way we do for other epistemological proposals. There is something we can do- it takes the form of covenantal self-binding, i.e. we can invite the real. When we do, the Real discloses itself lavishly.


Justification of knowledge concerns the ways it is appropriate that we accredit a claim as knowledge. In the contemporary analytic tradition, this area has been the all-encompassing pursuit of epistemologists, and reflects the contexting of knowledge as explanation (rather than as discovery), complete with statements and proofs, and implies that personal allegiance to truth claims be withheld pending thorough justification. CE challenges these assumptions by reconstruing what knowledge is. Philosophers explore correspondence, coherence and pragmatic responses. Respectively, justification requires evidential support, coherence with other knowledge claims and workability. Other approaches also broach factors such as internal conviction, virtue and social support. CE doesn’t reject these, but qualifies them. CE, following Polanyian epistemology, and consonant with the Christian profession that human knowers are creatures, is fallibilist. Fallibilism affirms that what we at one point consider true may be possibly false or in need of a revision- for CE, this is nota shameful label, but courage enacted. This doesn’t leave us in a void of skepticism either, but we are unleashed responsibly to engage the world.

Allegiance and Obligation are Prior to and Throughout Justification: Rather than knowing in order to love, we love in order to know. Obedience, especially in the anticipative dark before the dawn, precedes understanding, not vice versa. Allegiance is sacrosanct and incorrigible (even if it is to be revised continually in our apprehension of the real). Where knowledge is credo prior to commitment, there is no knowledge to be had. This makes CE not simply a viable alternative, but the only alternative.

Discovery is Prior to Justification: The transformative moment of insight is the thing without which prefatory clues not only do not make sense but cannot even be designated as clues. Discovery must in some respect be prior to justification. Justification is what Polanyi called destructive analysis- a reflective return (from communion) to focus on that which, only when we rely on it, prompts the integrative transformation. [VJ Comments: Meek comments on this throughout the book, but I brought it in only here- while Polanyi considers knowing to take place along the 3 dimensions he mentioned, he talks about a temporary inward focus to take stock, which justifies knowing after it has taken place.] Destructive Analysis, in bike riding, would me memorizing the physics formula that describes how we keep balance on the bike.

Contact with Reality: With the onset of a transformative apprehension of a pattern, there are 2 indicators that affirm we have made contact with reality: (1) the first is retrospective- we sense the profundity of the pattern, and our collection of clues are shown to be superseded in depth by this pattern, so the insight reshapes our questions; (2) the second is anticipative or prospective- discovery is accompanies by and attested to by the intimation of the possibility of a wide range of as yet unspecifiable prospects. Both the above 2 criteria (retrospective and prospective) are informally gauged. At its root, justification is informal.


Meek savors this last chapter of the book and says this is the one she has longed to write, and is at once a meditation and a catechesis to form aspiring covenantal knowers. [VJ Comment: I’m reminded of what the songwriter Sandra McCracken once said, “All relationships begin with an invitation.” Whether it is the moment of conversion, or the birth (and adoption by parents, whether biological or not) of a new child, a covenant of marriage, or friendship, I think this is true. An invitation seeks a response]. Meek’s inference that drives inviting the real is as follows: the real behaves as a person, treat it personally and hospitably, it will respond personally. She arranges the practices of invitation into five loci: Desire, Composure, Comportment, Strategy and Culmination.

Desire: This encompasses the practices of longing and love. Longing (the passive component of desire) calls for the other to give. Love (the active component) gives oneself for the sake of the other. Christianity affirms that love is prior to knowing, as Jesus showed the apostle Thomas. [VJ Comments: This has long been my interpretation of 1 Corinthians, from chapter 8 (knowledge puffs up, but love builds up) through chapter 13-14 (then we shall know even as we are fully known).] On longing, Simone Weil says, “…the soul loves in emptiness. It does not know whether anything real answers its love… The soul knows for certain only that it is hungry. The most important thing is that it announces its hunger by crying… The danger is not lest the soul should doubt whether there is any bread, but lest, by a lie, it should persuade itself that it is not hungry.” Passive longing is nevertheless anticipative and invites the real. Weil goes on to argue that the right use of studies is to develop the kind of attention that invites God, as the psalmist says in Psalm 63, “O God, you are my God, earnestly I see you; my soul thirsts for you; my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” This is no mere longing for information, but for communion and transformation. On loving, Meek says Love presumes that the real is lovely, or loveable or worth loving. Love invites the real because the opposite, indifference, invites falsehood.

Composure: A key inviter of the real is ourselves- more specifically our selves having become most fully ourselves, composed as ourselves [VJ Comment: As CS Lewis talked about in ‘Till We Have Faces’]. This takes the following forms: (a) Before God: to be fully ourselves we must have been composed, re-centered radically in the loving gaze of the Other. For those who have been known by God, we know the Other is in fact God. Many church fathers have said this, but there are a few things that suggest that knowing God invites the real- the first is obvious and important: to know God is to invite him. Humbly, with the realization that I have gotten it wrong about him, I yet receive his assurance that I may feel confident about his continual advent- or in other words, repentance and forgiveness. Second, he self-discloses. Mike Williams says we only have to get a few Christian doctrines right, not very many to be a Christian. It is not about our ascent, but God’s descent. Third, the biblical drama of redemption will inexorably lead to the renewal of all things, for which we receive a down payment- the Holy Spirit leads us to be better knowers as better lovers- love of neighbor and love of God stand together. Meek also broaches other points which I have not included here, partly as they are repeated elsewhere. (b) Being at Home (Presence): This is a kind of self-awareness or self-knowledge, a subsidiary composure as when one sits at the feet of a teacher, a embodied and lived. (c) Differentiation, as Schnarch defined it; (d) Personal Beauty: Also, as mentioned earlier, this is a kind of self-knowing which forms in the loving gaze of the Other; (e) Embodiment, as mentioned earlier; (f) Openness (a willingness, in the knowing, to be known in turn); Embracing Pain: Affliction is a given, especially for those who desire to live authentically, and is closely linked to openness. Pain enables us to better discover ourselves and can involve a shift from Cartesian disembodiment to being in the body.

Comportment: Similar to virtue, comportment identifies qualities of relating to the yet to be known. This locus of practices includes: (a) Pledge, Covenant: Covenant includes keeping one’s promises, making a pledge is covenanting- an illocutionary act. Both making and sustaining the pledge is comportment that is central to love. (b) Trust: We both long for the Other and feel threatened by the Other. George Steiner describes us as monads haunted by communion. Inviting the real requires a fundamental act of trust, of risk and our openness to it- or as the medievals said, “Credo ut Intelligam- I believe in order to understand”; (c) Obedience: To know the truth we must follow it with our lives; (d) Humility: David Dark links humility with genuine readiness to know, and involves acknowledging our fears and weaknesses; (e) Patience: Where knowing is an unfolding trajectory, and our epistemic task is construed as inviting the real, the knower must sustain the pledge over a lengthy period of time; (f) Saying “You” and Listening: Meek talks at length about this- one of her illustrations is about working at a mission in a small town, where she listened as people told stories of their brokenness, and the Spirit opened their eyes to find Christ.

Strategy: Includes: (a) Being in the Way of Knowing: Meek talks about the fact that before she had read Parker Palmer’s ‘The Courage to Teach’, she knew to expect great reward. Being in the way of knowing is planting oneself where you expect something to show up and expect joyous insight; (b) Noticing Regard: Meek talked earlier about how Jesus had noticing regard for the woman at the well. She says one of the most provocative sentences in Scripture is when Jesus asks her, “Will you give me a drink?” By asking this he puts himself and her on the same level, inviting her initiative in response to his own need. Simone Weil calls this ‘creative attention’, that which gives our attention to what does not exist, or what is invisible. Noticing regard confers dignity. (c) Active Listening: Listening well, and asking well-placed and well-attuned questions; (d) Listening beyond the categories: [VJ Comment: I’m not sure I understand this well, but it involves listening to what we are not seeing, to a world of unrealized possibility]. In David Dark’s words, “it serves to invest the details of the everyday with cosmic significance while awakening its audience to the presence of marginalizing forces otherwise unnamed and unchallenged.”; (e) Indwelling:  The culminating strategy to invite the real, it refers to the way the lived body extends itself through the skilled use of tools- the tool user both indwells and interiorizes the tools. It also refers to the inherent unspecifiability of tacit knowledge, such that apprentice or student must indwell master or teacher to come away with knowledge that is more than the teacher (or the student) is able to specify. Loder says, “Knowing anything is to indwell it and reconstruct it in one’s own terms without losing the essence of what is being indwelt.” (f) Connected Knowing: Blythe Clinchy, a developmental psychologist, says separate knowing is a doubting procedure, while connected knowing is a believing one, which looks to understand, not challenge. It looks for what is “right” even in positions that seem initially wrong. It uses the self to understand the other. (g) Seeing vs Looking: Looking is disembodied and passive, across a space, non-interactive, objective scrutiny. Seeing is active, interactive and interpretive. It is embodied, a phenomenon of love, reveling. Meek asks, “Do you think that God looks at us, or sees us? Would you rather be seen by him or looked at by him?” She suggests another line of thought, about how humans mistreat each other, for instance the way in which some men have treated women, or when Jesus described it as a “looking at a woman to lust after her.” When we understand intimacy as seeing rather than looking, this would mean some physical and sexual acts are the opposite of intimacy, the perpetrators of alienation. To see is to delight and to co-delight with God. David Bentley Hart writes, “Only in loving creation’s beauty- only in seeing that creation is beauty- does one apprehend what creation is.”

Consummation: Meeks asks how the consummation of knowledge could invite the real. She answers this question by saying that it can, if knowing is cast as a relationship. Friendship and Communion thus count as strategies to invite the real. Friendship is the consummation of knowing; or we may describe the culmination of relational knowing as communion. It is, we may say, more than “the logic” of gift and reception- it is the gift and reception, over an open-ended period of time. It is the ongoing freshness of the Other. It is knowing and being known, the fully actualized self-differentiated, perichoretic reflection of the Trinity. Meek gives one last practice to invite the real: the Eucharist. Meek says it is both the concrete paradigm of knowing as described by CE, and the most strategic primer of the pump of human knowing. For the Eucharist enacts a microcosm of the creation-fall-redemption-restoration drama of biblical redemption, and of Christ the Holy entering the void to deliver us to the gracious possibility of new being, re-centering us to self-giving love. He invites us to the table to eat what he provides, and he gives us himself. To partake, we must eat and drink (embodied intimacy and mutual indwelling). The appropriate posture is to kneel to eat and drink (signifying the honored role of the giver, your need for his generosity, and your readiness for the gift). The celebratory ritual forms us in the posture. It also shapes us for the communion of knowing.


This section is Meek’s afterword. Among the insights she notes here is the fact that her introduction to CE is simply a beginning, and we should think of ourselves as being pilgrims on the way, or as Newbiggin put it, we are in the middle of the story. To say that knowing is ‘being-on-the-way-to-knowing’ is to accredit the journey as itself epistemic. In our journeying, we are already living life on terms of the yet-to-be-known. Echoing with one of the cries of the Reformation, semper reformanda, Meek coins the maxim ‘semper transformanda’- always transforming.

Meek says knowing should bring healing to both the knower and the known. It should bless, bring shalom, rather than curse.

There is something more important than understanding CE and knowing well- it is to be known by God. She calls this the descent of God- the real comes unbidden, with fecundity, unrequested, unanticipated, unmerited, by grace.

Meek quotes from the Book of Common Prayer’s Prayer of General Thanksgiving, to talk about being unfeignedly thankful to God:

“… give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful, and that we shew forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives; by giving up ourselves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days…”

Enacting thankfulness opens our eyes to see what is going on under our nose. It is being in the way of knowing. This too is the descent of God. The point of celebration of the Eucharist is that God himself comes and gives himself. All worship is in response to this.