The Garden of Not-Knowing (I)

A friend gave me a five-gallon bucket of bulbs last October. It was a hodge-podge of flowers cleared out of her yard—tulips, daffodils, hyacinth, lilies, crocuses. I don’t know a hyacinth bulb from a tennis ball, so I planted them randomly along our fence, a sort of mystery garden to be revealed in spring.

The bulbs have been bursting with green for several weeks, and today the first daffodils bloomed. I can’t wait to see what the others turn out to be, since right now they are nondescript green spikes of different shapes and sizes. Not knowing certainly has its downside, but there’s a degree of freedom in not knowing. This garden of not-knowing is pretty intriguing.


I’ve spent the winter months of 2017 reading about the Last Words of Christ from the cross. Not too long ago I learned about this tradition, which weaves together from the four gospels the words of Jesus from crucifixion to last breath.

The first Last Word is “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” The thing that catches my eye first is the amazing, over-the-top forgiveness—the magnanimity of Jesus forgiving the people who are killing him. Astonishing.

But it’s the second half that catches my heart—this giving the benefit of the doubt to people who have no idea what they’re doing. Even the ones in the crowd who seem most intent on inflicting pain, even the ones who are relishing the cruelty of their jobs. They just don’t know what they’re doing.

I don’t know what I’m doing. I wake up in the middle of the night in fear at all the things I don’t know. What if all this writing never amounts to anything? What if my daughter grows up and loses her way? What if I wasted ten years teaching college English when I should have gone into Elementary Ed? What if I get diabetes?

So many things I don’t know.

Yet I’m always reading, always studying, always researching and wanting to know more. The more I know, the more aware I become of all I don’t know.

The good news is there’s mercy for this kind of not knowing, this second-guessing, this nauseating combo-meal of regret and pregret. Jesus’ compassion extends to those who carried out his murder and those who just don’t know.

I don’t know how things will turn out. I’ve been crushed by disappointment before, and I know it can happen again. But I also trust in Jesus’ over-the-top compassion for me. And for you, if you also happen to be one of the unknowing.

The bulbs in my garden of not knowing will soon bloom into full disclosure. Someday, perhaps, I will know it all. Meantime, there’s nothing but grace.

Note from Em In January and February, I took a dive into a tradition that was, until recently, unfamiliar to me: Jesus’ Last Words from the cross, also known as the Sayings of Jesus on the cross. These seven phrases are taken from all four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Woven together, they form a cohesive narrative of Jesus’ final hours. Books I read include Cross-Shattered Christ by Stanley Hauerwas, Echoes from Calvary edited by Richard Young, Seven Last Words by Timothy Radcliffe, In the Shadow of the Cross by Stephen C. Rowan, Seven Last Words by Fr. James Martin, and Friday Afternoon: Reflections on the Seven Last Words by Neville Ward. These seven posts I am writing during Lent are my reflections on the Last Words. Enjoy.