A Little Manual for Knowing - a review

Students, managers, athletes, scientists, and artists alike will discover something exceptionally transformative in this Little Manual. In just over 100 pages, Esther Lightcap Meek takes us on a loving-to-know pilgrimage in order to find shalom. Peace. Joy. Communion. Beauty. Wonder. Fulfilment.

This unique introductory book is a wonderful gateway into a world of insight, inquiry and love. Meek not only makes sense of our relationship with knowing, but casts it in such a vivifying light that once you’ve basked in it, you will never look upon your own knowing ventures in quite the same way ever again.

Reality is person-like

Little Manual Cover

We all bear bruises of different types from our dealings with knowledge in the past. We can be left feeling inadequate, unworthy and ill-suited to life-long learning and exploration, especially when “Knowledge is power” is constantly ringing in our ears. When knowledge is reduced to the “knowledge-as-information” formula our approach to knowledge is one of amassing more and more information so as to become more and more powerful.

Instead, Meek offers us a more real, more hearty, more true vision of reality to underscore our knowing. She argues that “reality is not impersonal; rather it is person-like.” If reality is person-like, then, the way we go about coming-to-know and the way we can account for our ongoing relationship with knowledge is also profoundly personal.

Meek offers us a more real, more hearty, more true vision of reality

We must ask: what do we think lies at the core of who we are, and in our moments of deepest, truest being? Power and domination prove to be a false and damaging objective. Love, even when our lives are fraught with challenges to it, rings true again and again. Might it not be truer to live true to who we are?

That is precisely what this book offers: a healing, transformative, loving vision of knowing which accords with who we are as persons.

What do you love?

In eight short yet gripping chapters, Meek outlines each step to our journey of knowing. The starting point and, indeed, fundamental posture towards knowing is: love.

[If love] is at the core of all things, if reality is, at its core, the highly sophisticated interpersonal act of gift, then knowing is quite sensibly a responding to the gesture of love.

Knowledge is a relationship between the knower and the known

If love is at the core of all things, including reality, then our growing understanding of things and the world is born out of love or desire. Therefore, knowledge is a relationship between the knower and the known. We begin journeys of knowing riding on waves of wonder which beckon our delight and awe. That is how any and all knowing ventures should start. They should be born out of love.

How do we come to know?

Meek’s philosophical epistemology is centred upon Michael’s Polanyi’s subsidiary-focal integration. You can read about her adaptation of this approach in more detail in her other works, but just to give you a flavour of what’s on offer here, consider the following: How do you come to know anything?

If knowledge is merely collecting information, then how does one transition from not knowing to knowing? How do you know that you need to know something? One assumes that this information is entirely clear and can be easily downloaded into one’s stream of thought. But, this is not the case: “It is obvious that what one does not yet know is neither verbalised nor clear.” (48)

No knowledge is ever constantly present to us. We are not “focally aware” of everything that we know at the same time and in the same way. In fact, what we are focally aware of forms only the base of the iceberg of our knowing. It is known “subsidiarily”; it lies beneath the surface. It isn’t the focal point of the iceberg. For example, reading relies on the subsidiary knowledge of sentences in order to contemplate the focal semantic meaning of the text.

Meek presents a full-bodied epistemology as she teases out the fundamental elements of love and commitment in these knowing ventures

“All knowledge and knowing has a “from–to structure” (51). The relationship between subsidiaries and focus, however, isn’t linear. The two come together – they integrate – in a transformative way. They mutually inform each other and make sense of the other collectively in order to bring about kaleidoscopic meaning, coherence and beauty. “Coming to know proves to be a process of moving from looking at to looking from in order to see transformatively beyond” (52).

This is only the beginning! There is much more to say about this model, such as the role of the bodily dimension to subsidiary knowledge, as well as the roles of guides and situations. Meek succinctly explains what is involved in this venture of knowing that incorporates the whole human experience without offering false totalising accounts of knowledge which emerge when we divorce heads from bodies, hearts and situations. Hers is a full-bodied epistemology as she teases out the fundamental elements of love and commitment in these knowing ventures. Truly human. Truly Trinitarian. Truly transformative. Truly able to account for our need for transformative truth.

What difference does this make?

Throughout the following seven chapters Meek unpacks the role of pledge, invitation, indwelling, encounter, transformation, dance and shalom in our walks with knowledge. Combined with love, this creates the healthy eight-fold knowing process which is exclusive to Meek’s epistemology. Each area positively shapes our vision of the loving-to-know approach. This is grounded in perceptive questions for the reader to work through at the end of each chapter. A couple I found particularly formative were: “How does joy shape your knowing venture?” and “In what ways does your experience attaining a moment of epiphany in your knowing venture reshape your understanding of how knowing works? How is this experience reshaping your underlying epistemology?”

If you've ever wondered whether Truth is attainable, this book is for you

There are books that fill out, sharpen, and even challenge our thoughts. Meek’s work has done so much more. This will transform your heart – continually. Reading her books has produced a fundamental shift in the way I orient myself to God, the world, others, and myself. Personally, I have found deep healing within these pages. I have been lifted out of the entrenched cynicism of Cartesian uncertainty (Methodic Doubt) and into the warm waters of invigorating knowing ventures.

If you have ever wondered whether Truth is actually attainable, or if you’ve ever felt weary, especially in the recent months of our current post-truth context, then this book is for you.

What you will find here is a feast of lucidity, erudition and startling insight. This book is its own little knowing venture which will leave you reeling with wonder and delight in the restorative features of such true, loving, and personal knowledge that underpins and governs this universe.

Title: A Little Manual for Knowing
Author: Esther Lightcap Meek
Publisher: Wipf & Stock
Year: 2014
Pages: 108
Price: £12.00 ($16.00)

© 2017 Kristi Mair