There is a huge difference between book knowledge and soul knowledge.
I started thinking about this on safari in South Africa where my family and I have been traveling over the past two weeks. Before we left I bought guide books and “South African History in an Hour.” I bought Nelson Mendala’s autobiography, though I haven’t started it yet – it’s a big book and a little intimidating.
I wanted to know all about South Africa before I got there. I wanted to know how to say hello and thank you in at least some of its 11 languages, so I don’t seem self-absorbed. I wanted to know, know, know. And all of that non-fiction reading was helpful. I did know many things that came in handy during the trip.
But it was the two books of short stories that gave me the most insight into South Africa, that gave me the sense of connection with place and people that I was really craving. It wasn’t book knowledge, it was soul knowledge, a place where spirits connect, that was the real knowledge I sought.
Both of our guides on safari had plenty of book knowledge. Geoffrey could name every bird in the field. I could never stump him. Lucia could tell me all about the behavior patterns of animals. She could show me why giraffes browse from tree to tree as they feed on leaves rather than stripping one branch clean. She gave us a leaf to chew; shook the branches and gave us another – the second was dry and bitter from tannins that are released when the tree is shaken. It’s a defense mechanism for the trees; the giraffes take one bite – mmm, yummy. But as the bites wear on, the leaves taste worse and worse and the giraffe moves on. Fascinating.
So the book knowledge told us that experiments have been done to show that trees in the bush can communicate through the roots and soils and whatever other pathways they have, “Hey, I’m being eaten over here!” And other trees in the vicinity start to produce tannins as well, so the whole herd of giraffe move on to another area with fresher tasting leaves. That’s book knowledge and it’s cool.
But soul knowledge opened when we started talking about what it meant that the trees could communicate with one another. How are we connected with the trees and the giraffe? What would it mean to say that the trees can talk? There was a point where the silence fell upon us and we were left in wordless awe. We didn’t have to know, we just did.
South Africa was filled with soul touching experiences. Book knowledge helped me get there, but it was soul knowledge that binds my heart there. Geoffrey didn’t just know the birds’ names; he could call to them and they answered. He’s been working that area for 17 years and his father for 50 before that. He brings me into that connection and gives me a story that weaves into my own.
I have always been book smart; it is a gift God has given me. But he more priceless gift is the soul knowledge that continues to grow as I connect more deeply in the world.
How would you describe the difference between book knowledge and soul knowledge? Have you ever thought about separating the two? Can you think of any times when you have had a conversation that dropped into awed silence? Connection is important to me in my spiritual journey. Does that seem important to you? Are there places where you feel a deep soul knowledge more keenly?
If you want to explore your own soul knowledge, consider how a retreat or individual spiritual direction might help you. Contact me at Openings: Let the Spirit In for more information.