Becoming Expert

Not very long ago, nearly everyone seemed to be an armchair epidemiologist. We regaled one another with our opinions on vaccines, lockdowns, mask-wearing and so on, cheerfully unaware that our (mis)understanding of mathematics often made our interpretation of statistical tables questionable, to say nothing of our failure to understand the science involved in tackling COVID-19. Rumours and ‘false information’ abounded. Now, it seems, we are all experts on Afghanistan. Partly, that is a reaction to the deep sense of shame many in the West feel about the way in which the U.S.A. and its allies have withdrawn from the country; partly, I think, it is our usual response to any item of news that engages our attention.

The problem is, the instant expert does not exist. We may have an instant insight, but that is not the same thing as expertise. To become expert in anything requires long training and practice, for at the root of the word lies the Latin verb ‘to try’. Sometimes people become discouraged when they begin to pray and do not find themselves immediately in what has been variously called the unitive way, the Seventh Mansion, and so on. Happily, St Benedict always adopts a commonsense approach, seeing the importance of prayer but not being prescriptive about methods. One who reads and is faithful to the liturgical prayer of the community, who shares generously in its common life and is careful about obedience and mutual charity, will grow in prayer. The growth is hidden from the individual; but that is true of any expert, who will always say they have more to learn. St Bernard, whose feast we celebrate today, understood this very well β€” and what an impact he had on the people of his time and still today!

Advance notice

We shall be migrating all our web sites to new servers on 24/5 August. There will probably be hiccups, but we hope to have them sorted before we begin our annual retreat, 29 August to 6 September.


7 thoughts on “Becoming Expert”

  1. I would suggest that the closest we have to an expert on Afghanistan is Rory Stewart. There are short video interviews with him speaking about the current crisis, which are most enlightening.

    • May I gently point out that this post isn’t about COVID-19 or Afghanistan but prayer? Unfortunately, my illustrations always seem to be more interesting to readers than what I actually write about! πŸ™‚

      • Before all this blew up, I knew next to nothing about Afghanistan. This is no doubt still the case. To have a glimmer of the situation there helps me to focus when bringing the misery of its people to the feet of Christ. Praying the best way I can!

  2. I am sure that what you say about progress is true, Sister, but the older I get, the more I stop worrying about it and just try to trust the good God to hold me. It’s not at all that I am (alas) less self-regarding, but I am wearied of constantly pulling things up by the roots to see how they are growing. I don’t think (underlined) that this is laziness but it is a relief but a consequence of old age when energy wanes. Do you think that chimes with what St Benedict was talking about?

    • Yes. There is a kind of spiritual self-absorption that is as common as it is unprofitable β€” and wearisome for those in receipt of daily emails/tweets about it. Forgetfulness of self is surely key to real growth, and trusting God to act since we cannot do anything ourselves, for all our struggling and crashing about. Perhaps it is only as we get older that we begin to see why that should be so. When we are at our most helpless, what have we to rely on but the mighty strength of God?

  3. Thank you for more balanced thought feeding. I’m afraid that alongside our self-declared expert status, there is also a growing resistance to hearing those who actually possess required knowledge (especially in current temporal concerns). We are fortunate that the church provides ample examples of just the sort of expertise we need to look to develop and the sort of humility and trust in God with which it is best expressed.

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