Using All My Senses to Look for God

Posted on December 13, 2011


I first watched this video about year ago. It is an illustrated talk by Ken Robinson speaking about the educational system in most of the world. Two weeks ago it popped back into my digital purview and I watched it again. And again it made me think about the way we teach, learn, and the ultimate goal of education. I would recommend it for parents, teachers, and students alike.

However I was not satisfied with the cursory information in the talk, so I checked out Robinson’s book The Element from my local library. While I am giving neither an overall review of the book nor a critique Robinson’s theory of education, in an early chapter, Robinson spends time talking about our senses and this part caught my attention.

He begins by stating that most of the time when we talk about “the 5 senses,” we mean

1. sight

2. hearing

3. touch

4. taste

5. smell

But, says Robinson, there are actually several more senses we regularly neglect to consider. There is

6. balance and acceleration

7. temperature

8. external pain

9. internal pain

10. kinesthetic (our body in space)

He also mentions our sense of intuition, which is of a different category of sense, but still worth considering.

If you went through formal schooling you know there is an emphasis on the senses of sight (reading) and hearing (lectures). This is so obvious that it is unnecessary to give examples to support it. Now, I haven’t been in school in some time and I know things change, but I’m guessing that this emphasis has not been changed by, say, the integration of new technologies into schools, or a reinvented grading rubric. If anything, the greater use of tools like computers and the Internet may have increased the emphasis on visual and auditory learning. I would welcome correction on this point from someone who can sight examples of an increased emphasis on dance, music, cooking, or sculpting.

However, the question bouncing around in my head is not, “How do we best educate our children?”

Rather the question is,

“How do I open all my available senses in my search for experiences of God?”

In the Christian tradition I was raised in (Reformed) the greatest characteristic of the experience of God has not actually been a sense experience at all, rather the mark of piety was intellectually comprehension. Sense experience could be dealt with in two ways:

1. integrated into a complex and articulate system of theology

2. dismissed

If something (or someone) came into my life and that thing (or being) could not be explained, perhaps a joy while dancing or a feeling of peace when eating, then that moment should be accepted with hesitation and skepticism, not embraced as a divine caress.

Even the most tactile and tasty experience was secondary to listen to a sermon. Holy Communion is such a wonderful thing, but cubed white bread and diluted grape juice communicated the underlying understanding of the experience: symbolic, not to be enjoyed or satiated by. From Sunday School to seminary, I read about God or I learned what other people thought about God.

Now, Ken Robinson comes along and reminds me how our educational system is based on the Enlightenment emphasis on rational, linear through and this throws me for a loop because I’m realizing this type of thinking dominates not just our secular education, but our Christian education as well. In my search for God I’ve become suspicion of my God-given senses to the point of closing myself to the various senses that are available. This is bad.

I see now that these different sense experiences are various forms of grace, different languages God can speak/reveal/touch/fragrant/move me. But like learning any new language, it is going to take practice. And like language learning, this is something kids are very good at for the following reason.

When they are very young, kids aren’t particularly worried about being wrong. If they aren’t sure what to do in a particular situation, they’ll just have a go at it and see how things turn out. This is not to suggest that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. Sometimes being wrong is just being wrong. What is true is that if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original. (Ken Robinson, The Element p.15)

I want to stop worrying about being theologically wrong. I want to more often “have a go at it and see how things turn out.” I want to come up with something original. To this end I’ve come up with and experiment to try to develop my senses. Perhaps I’ll discover that I’m more predisposed to experiencing the divine through movement or taste than I would have suspected. Perhaps it will all be a waste of time, but I’ll only know that if I try it and see.

I’m going to intentionally engage one sense at a time as I look for God.

I’m not sure how I’ll do it. I’ll likely start with the easy ones and leave the more difficult ones for later. (How does one intentionally open oneself to pain as an avenue for God’s revelation? Self-flagellation? Eh.) If you want to join me, I’m going to begin with my sense of vision. I’ll report as soon as I do the experiment. I welcome your suggestions.

Next post: My Sense of Vision and God’s Revelation

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