Comprehension and Apprehension
I was talking with a scholarly friend about the nature of understanding. We hike together and sometimes discuss subjects others might consider esoteric.
I told him I have noticed a shift in my focus. I now seek wisdom with the same determination with which I once sought knowledge and understanding. My friend suggested understanding moved to second place because of how bound it is to modern age thinking. I believe he is correct.
The modern age was focused almost entirely on science and the notion of factual knowledge. Science today is still fixated on facts. It loves objective measurable facts. While science could not advance without its cold and calculating regard for hard information, too much reliance on science reduces all of life to nothing but facts. If something cannot be measured and quantified, it simply is not important or worse yet, it does not exist.
Facts belong in the realm of comprehension. But much of life cannot be comprehended. It can only be apprehended, and there is a huge difference between the two. In his book, Faith, Hope and Poetry, Malcolm Guite says comprehension occurs when you “completely surround something, so that your mind completely understands it.” He suggests that when you apprehend something, “you are not saying you’ve completely got a hold of it, you are saying you’ve grasped something of it and you’re moving toward it.”
When I read the first verses of the Gospel of John, I apprehend the gospel. I cannot say I comprehend it. In fact I feel that way through much of John’s writing. On the other hand, it seems to me that Paul writes so we may comprehend the gospel. Proverbs is about comprehension. Psalms is about apprehension.
Seamus Heany’s poem The Forge begins with the line, “All I know is a door into the dark.” Guite suggests it is not just a great opening line, but a wonderful stand-alone line. To go through that door requires what he calls “imaginative apprehension.” Isn’t that how we approach death, or marriage, parenting, retirement, or any other milestone event?
Ah, this is one of those times I am frustrated by the limitations of this little column. I would like to wander more into the territory of apprehension. Maybe you can come on by the house. We’ll sit by the fire pit, look at the mountains and have a conversation about the nature of understanding. Who knows, maybe we’ll even apprehend something.