Beyond the Edge of Knowledge: An Ecological Hope for Lent

“Every single creature is full of God
and is a book about God.
Every creature is a word of God.
If I spend enough time with the tiniest creature,
even a caterpillar,
I would never have to prepare a sermon.
So full of God is every creature.”
Meister Eckhart

When Christian Wiman was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 39, it should have killed him, but it didn’t. Every treatment bought him just enough time until the next was pioneered. One day, when talking about what might come next, his doctor just said, “we’ve moved beyond the edge of knowledge.”[1]

Have you ever come to a great unknown in your life? A vast “I don’t know”? A state of not-knowing? Will there be thriving? I don’t know. Will the hoped-for arrive? No idea. Will there be something beyond the precipice? Couldn’t say. Is there a way, when it feels as if all is lost? Your guess is as good as mine. There are seasons with no answers. There are life-stages that feel incompatible with hope. There are undreamt chapters that arise unexpected. What does hope look like when everything is a question mark? What does flourishing look like when the story is unwritten, the path not forged, the road unpaved?

In her book “Wild Hope: Stories for Lent from the Vanishing,” author Gayle Boss, too, stands in that place “beyond the edge of knowledge.” In her search for the spiritual groundedness that is possible in the season of Lent, she says, “The Purpose of Lent has always been to startle us awake to the true state of our hearts and the world we’ve made. Which wakes an aching, wild hope that something new might be born of the ruin.” For her, the “ruin” is not some personal scramble toward health, but instead the broad and weighty topic of ecological strain. She writes sparse and beautiful essays on animals on the brink of vanishing from this earth. With very little commentary, the story of each animal can bring you to tears. Each is worthy of salvation. Each is beloved. Each is groaning. Each awaits. Each has a future not yet written, one of vanishing or return, depending on the courage of the likes of you and me.

“The promise of lent,” Gayle Boss says, “is that something will be born of the ruin, something so astoundingly better than the present moment that we cannot imagine it. Lent is seeded with resurrection.”

When Christine Hides, Sarah Champlin, and I began dreaming up a Lenten Devotional, it was this spirit we wanted to capture. What might be seeded if we begin to plant our attention in the direction of God’s creation? What summer fruit might flower this spring if we root ourselves in the winter planting, the Lenten season of possibility, contemplation, and commitment?

[1] This phrase “we’ve moved beyond the edge of knowledge” and the wider accompanying story can be found in the December 11, 2023 New Yorker article called “Close to the Bone: The Poet Christian Wiman Keeps the Faith.”

February 7, 2024

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