Know May 30, 2010

It’s four a.m., and I just awoke from a dream that ended with me in tears. Thought I’d share.

There are times when I like — or, more truly, need — to write. Not as in “think something profound and express it with words”; but physically, with a pen or pencil on paper, to write. In another life I might have been a calligrapher; writing on paper is to me an elemental aesthetic experience. I thrill at the erratic flow of quickly printing letters. (Unwilling to compromise the integrity of the individual letter, as a child I refused to employ cursive writing, and still only print.) I get enchanted as the letters I’m drawing, seemingly of their own accord, collect themselves, as they must, into words.

In my dream I hold poised above a piece of unmarked white paper a standard-issue yellow pencil, newly sharpened to a perfect point. The whole of my vision is taken up my hand, the pencil, and the unbroken expanse of the paper. I realize it’s been too long since I used a pencil on paper; I’m really looking forward to writing something. So I do: with the unbroken movement that makes writing so much physical fun, I print out a word.

But the word I wrote — and I don’t even know what word it is — does not appear on the paper. The pencil has somehow failed. This makes no sense; I can see its lead point, and as I wrote certainly felt its satisfying press against the paper. Yet the paper remains blank. Mystified, I lay the pencil aside; in my dream now the only thing I see is the white paper. As I stare at the place where I thought I had written something, a word begins to appear on the page. At first its letters are too faint for me to make out, but as I watch they emerge from the whiteness, finally coalescing into a word that I was not aware I had written.

That word is this:


And looking at that lone word in the middle of the vast white page, I begin to cry. What overwhelms me isn’t the impact of the word upon me personally (though there is that), but rather that it has the same definitional meaning to untold millions of people that it does to me.

I cry at the wonder and power of a common written language.

As I stared at it, “know” grew blurry through the tears in my eyes.

And then I was awake again, lying in my bed.

And now here I am, before my computer.


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  • Oh John… this has happened to me so many times, but usually I'm actually physically awakened and more-or-less compelled to write something. That "something" is often the culmination of a principle or life-strategy that I feel others would benefit from, but sometimes, that "something" is merely that gut-rending feeling that I need to communicate what I'm feeling and thinking right now or I'll burst! When people ask me why I write, I tell them I can't NOT write. It'd be like asking a bird not to sing. I'm so very grateful that you have the same passion… the same compulsion, if you will. It's inspired me greatly. Thank you.

  • lilypad

    This is really cool. Thanks for sharing.

  • Those breakthrough moments are emotional, and so valuable. Listen to the quiet still center and know what you know, and be open to ever-opening more-ness.

  • Beautiful, John. 😀

    I so relate.

    As an artist, I've also have had these same type of visions. (Yes, I believe you had a vision,) Instead of words with me it is images. I work mainly in pencil and pastel. Many times I've sat at the pad of paper amazed at the visions that flow through those simple tools. Often it leaves me in tears as well. And many times these sketches I draw for clients have left them in tears. I am humbled everytime. For it is not me that draws these images, but that tangible yet elusive and undescribalbe creative force that flows though artists like us. This creative force I believe comes from the Divine. Wether it is word, music, or images, this creative force is enlightening and frustrating; often we are driven to the point of madness as we struggle to find that right note, that right color, that right word to express the vision we are given. And when we hit that perfect expression we feel it, we 'know' it. For me it is as if the Divine is smiling through me and saying 'Thank you. You've done well.'

    You have a gift, John. You are an artist. Your gift is the writen word, your tool the pen. Use them well.

    I believe you have only just scratched the surface of what you can do. Let it flow from you, let it express itself through you. Let that one word show you the way and hang on tight for the ride that is coming. You aint seen nothin' yet. 😉


  • Joel

    … that you are loved… Fathers don't just love their children every now and then, it's a love without end… Amen.

  • Paper? Oh, you mean "fiber-based data storage", Got it.

    Seriously, I find it interesting that you think everyone who speaks english has the same understanding of the word "know"… because of all words, as an agnostic, I have no idea what that word really means. Aristotle wrote (on papyrus or something) about the difference between knowledge and "right opinion." In our current quantum post-Aristotelian world, the concept of knowledge seems even vaguer as we recognize that the observer is an important part of what is being observed. A scientist can't "know" anything without qualifying that the data comes using specific tools in specific contexts.

    Oh well, as E.G. Marshall used to say at the end of the CBS Radio Mystery Theatre, "Pleasant Dreams!"

  • DonP

    But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; 1 Corinthians 1:27

  • Lisa

    Here's a little dream interpretation…

    *Being the author of something written is a sign that your interests are about to widen.

    *Writing with a pencil is relative to love and romance. A lead pencil is a warning not to tell tales about your love life to people you've just met.

    *Seeing yourself write and you must try not to be so impulsive -think first and act last.

    *Handwriting is a warning not to trust one of your friends.

    *Reading something printed means your troubles will soon be over.

    * Watching your writing fade means happy family news is coming.

  • Tim

    Actually, John only stated that "untold millions" of whom John shares the English language have the same understanding of that word. He never implied, "everyone" that speaks English. If we consider that approximately one of every five people on the earth speaks English, untold millions among over one billion people isn't that much a stretch.

    You have a great Memorial Day, Brian.

  • Tim

    As an artist, the blank canvas inspires creative vision and thought. All of the Selahs scattered among the Psalms are a pause…a rest….a blank moment where we look for nothing, say nothing, sing nothing, draw nothing, and most possibly, write nothing.

    When I paint, John, I see what I am supposed to paint. It's like painting by numbers, or tracing. I see a vision of the art on the blank canvas. Nobody else can see what I see…until God moves my hand to express what He has shown me. Then others can see what I did.

    Know. Yes. When I give Him space, silence, emptiness, stillness. I really believe that I come to know more. Usually in a way that indescribable. I like that word, INDESCRIBABLE. As writers, I don't doubt that most here know what I mean. : )

  • Nicola

    It is interesting to see that this blog evokes responses from two places. To be stirred to tears by a word… Or to see the concept of a word and be left dry, there is obviously different processes going on. The Holy Spirit when moving seems to holistically approach concepts thus one word can provoke such depth of learning or understanding when approached by a person in liasion with the Holy Spirit. When a word is approached by a person solely from a human perspective with out the Holy Spirit then it certainly can fall flat. Who can know the mind of God, we are promised as Christians that if we ask for understanding we will get it. I experience both, my human thought produces mostly indigination or pride but I prefer The "God" encounter with a word, LOL the profoundness of Knowledge I get leaves me floored and usless for hours trying to process it all. So glad you can be floored by one word John… You must know the Holy Spirit. HS certainly knows how to keep it interesting.

  • Rexi

    Wow. I remember having feelings like that in a Linguistics class when were were studying the history of language. Definitely a holy moment.

    It's interesting your word was an abstract verb instead of a concrete noun. As Brian pointed out, not something all English speakers define similarly. (But would we visualize the same apple if that word had been written?) I think there is some essential concept-of-knowing, some Platonic ideal, that ties all our concepts together. The higher a cognitive process is, the harder it is to describe without using analogies, and knowing is right up there with loving and believing.

    One euphemism for sex is "knowing someone in the Biblical sense". True to a point, but a more complete translation would emphasize intimacy or deep familiarity and closeness with a person. I liked the way learning that transformed my favorite verse, Psalms 46:10: Be still and know that I am God. Really and truly know.

    JMO. Don't know if this fits with how you see it or not. See you back on Twitter.

  • I wish had more profound dreams. This one rocks.

  • I actually stumbled, Brian, at the exact phrasing to which you point (though I think for different reasons). But (at four in the morning at that point) I couldn't think of a way to finesse what I ended up saying into something closer to what I most perfectly meant. I found a free moment here to at least get it closer. Thanks for your careful reads, brohamand.

  • DonP


  • Don Whitt


    There's a very important word related to "know" that I associated with your dream as I read your description of it.


    It's use in The Gospel of John is associated with the "Word". As in, "The Word became flesh".

    John, Know, The Word.

  • Christine

    Hey John

    Doing an assignment on knowing and ways of knowing atm and am really interested in quoting you in it. Would that be ok? A lot of what you said hear resounds nicely with what I am writing about.

  • Send me the passage/paper in which you quote me, and I'll run it as a blog post.

    Who doesn't want to know what kinds of assignments they're giving to people in college in New Zealand?

  • whatifmovie

    If you wouldn't have woken up, you would have seen the letters expanding into the phrase, "Go to the banK NOW and deposit money." It really wasn't all that profound, just God telling you to get your financial act together.

    But just seeing "know" and waking up is a charming little anecdote. Thanks for sharing!


  • christine

    done and done!!!! We are actually very interesting people, but I will save the essays on Maori understandings of land for those who care hahaha…..I will wait til I get the mark back before I send it through cos if it fails it ain't getting posted anywhere!!!

  • christine

    please tell me you're joking because if not you are a serious dooshbag

  • Tim

    I don't know if it fits either, but I like what you said.

  • Charles Horton

    John, When I have a dream that makes me think, I am prompted to want to know what I can learn from it, (which implies there might well be something I need to learn). So my response to and interpretation of your dream is the result of processing which I use on myself. My interpretation of your dream is: What you thought you knew and were trying to write didn't stick, but evaporated into nothing. It was replaced either by something you think you know that needs to be corrected, or by something you just don't know yet. A few of verses come to mind concerning your dream: "Examine yourself whether you be in the faith" and "Grow in the grace and KNOW-ledge of Jesus Christ." 2 Cor 13:5 and 2 Peter 3:18. And of course 2 Timothy 3:16-17 about all scripture being inspired by God and reliable for knowledge, correction, etc. that we may be perfect and thoroughly funished in the works we do.

  • Latoya

    WOW. Joh you have a beautiful gift! I was so captivated by every word

  • Don Whitt