I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.
The mystery of knowledge has always been a deep concern and problem for modern, Western civilization. From Plato and Aristotle to Sarte and the present day, thinkers continue to search for its elusive meaning. What can be known and trusted, if anything, by the human intellect? Is knowledge derived from sensible objects or from the realm of Ideas? Often overlooked is the Gospel of John and its insight into knowledge. The theme of knowledge is present, manifestly and hidden, throughout the Johannine corpus. In fact, John 17 equates eternal life with the knowing of the Son and the Father. This “knowing” is possible through the Incarnation and Advent is a time of waiting and of preparation to receive this knowledge.
Human knowledge is typically knowledge through representation. I look at a tree. My mind views an image of the tree through my sense of sight. I learn things about the tree–its size, shape, color–but these are just external attributes of the tree. I am an outside observer and know nothing of the essence of the tree itself. It is an intellectual, cold knowledge in which the subject and object remain separate. In the same way, we may learn things about God through Scripture and Church traditions and yet not truly know God Himself. This, however, is not the manner in which God knows.
There is an old philosophical axiom that asserts “like is known by like,” meaning there must be a certain something of the same essence present in beings which makes true knowledge of the other possible. This likeness exists innately within the Father and Son. It is truth that only the Father knows the Son and only the Son knows the Father. When Jesus declares “You(the Father) are in me and I in You (John 17),” we learn that true knowledge proceeds from presence. Third-century theologian Origen beautifully writes, “He who is known is mingled in a certain way with him who knows.” The Father and Son know one another intimately from this intermingling presence from which flows the Spirit.
As creaturely human beings, we are unable to attain to any true knowledge of God through the intellect alone. In order to transcend to the divine, we must learn to know as God knows through presence. Unfortunately–no, wait…fortunately–we are unable to achieve this upward movement. It requires the gracious descent of God into humanity. God comes to know us through intimate presence by being birthed in our souls. Through the Incarnation and the assumption of human nature, God chooses to mingle with you and I. He is not content to know us from afar as strangers or foreign objects but rather intimately through communion as friends. It is Immanuel, “God with us.” .
The Incarnation creates a reciprocal way of knowing through the elements of likeness and presence. “ I know my own and my own know me.” Just as Christ fully knows us, we are able to know Him as well. There is a relating to one another and a back and forth flow of knowledge and love. It is in this constant relating and intermingling that our knowledge of God deepens and, as a necessary consequence, our love of God intensifies. All learning of God will lead to an increase in affection and adoration, for God is love. Karl Rahner expresses the relation between knowledge, love, and presence in one of his meditations:
How can we approach the heart of all things, the true heart of reality?
Not by knowledge alone, but by the full flower of knowledge, love. Only the experience
of knowledge’s blooming into love has any power to work a transformation
in me, in my very self. For it is only when I am fully present to an object
that I am changed by meeting it. And it is only in love that I am fully present–
not in bare knowing, but in the affection engendered by knowing.
Knowledge, love, and presence, what a holy trinity!!! May we ever strive to consent to this way of being and living. Oh, that all our knowledge would precipitate affection for God, the world, and ourselves.
Notice how this relation between knowledge, love, and presence–this way of salvation–has nothing to do with the content of our circumstances. Regardless of our present state, the way of true life is nestled and pregnant within the present moment. Oh, how we are blind to this!! Oh, how we are repelled by the gracious truth of eternal, abundant life available in the here and now. Our hearts are restless and so often turned elsewhere. We live in the past or look forward to the future with hope or fear. We desire our salvation to be the glorious transformation of our present circumstances. Poet Rainer Maria Rilke describes this well in one of his Duino Elegies.
Yes, the springtimes needed you. Many a star was waiting
for your eyes only. A wave swelled toward you
out of the past, or a violin surrendered itself
as you walked by an open window. All that was mission.
But were you up to it? Weren’t you always
distracted by expectation, as though each moment
announced a beloved’s coming?
It is the devilish sense of expectation that drives us away from the present moment, away from the relational act of knowledge, love, and presence. The present moment is the only time where Christ is to be found. Each and every moment the beloved is near and announces His presence. May we be up to surrendering our very selves and desires to receive these seeds of life and give birth to Christ.
The season of Advent is a time for awakening to the truth of Christ present with and within us. One of my most-loved terms and practices is that of adoration. It is a time of silent reflection and meditation upon Christ Himself, Scripture or devotional literature, or anything uplifting that enkindles your heart to love. Adoration could be described as “affection engendered by knowing.” It is an obscure knowledge in which we slowly grow in the realization of God’s presence and of our being loved by Him. May we take time this Advent season to participate in adoration so that we may be awakened from within by the knowing and loving presence of Christ in us. May we grow in our love of this intermingling of humanity and divinity in which our salvation rests secure.
 Origen, Fragment on the First Letter to the Corinthians, LXXII.
 Karl Rahner, Encounters with Silence, trans. James M. Demske, S.J. (South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press, 1960), 29-30.
 Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies, trans. Edward Snow (New York: North Point Press, 2000), 5-7.