Acknowledgments Come First
Heather Grennan Gary

In On Certainty, a collection of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s late-in-life notes published eighteen years after the philosopher’s death in 1951, he wrote, “Knowledge is, in the end, based on acknowledgement.” While this pithy line is part of a longer meditation, we can take it on its own merits. What we know and understand about anything is based on what we acknowledge—what we recognize, what we accept, what we appreciate.

This issue’s authors have contributed essays, reviews, and poems that support Wittgenstein’s point, and they do so by contending with a sweeping array of topics: music and poetry, higher education and business, biblical interpretation and social movements.

In the opening essay, Mark R. Schwehn tells the stories of Frank Laubach, a groundbreaking missionary, and Barbara McClintock, a cutting-edge scientist. Schwehn makes the case that both of these individuals, in distinctive ways, exhibited an exceptional willingness and ability to see, appreciate, and engage with what was in front of them. In so doing, they made observations and drew conclusions that their fellow missionaries and scientists either could not or would not, and consequently they achieved outcomes that transformed their fields.

Debra Dean Murphy’s examination of sentimentality takes up the poetry of Mary Oliver. In what reads like a variation of Wittgenstein’s note, Murphy includes a quote from Oliver: “What I write begins and ends with the act of noticing and cherishing” (page 20). Murphy asks about the boundaries of sentimentality and considers the gendered assumptions that sentimentality often carries. (It’s easy to recognize sentimentality in romance novels, Murphy writes, but do we recognize the sentimentality of “military parades and professional hockey games”?)

Wittgenstein’s insight also applies to Jim Clemens’s essay (page 23). His nearly twenty-year fascination with Deerin Farrer, an obscure nineteenth-century composer, began with Clemens’s initial recognition of something delightful and mysterious about Farrer. This led to a “treasure hunt”—sometimes a wild goose chase—to track down anything and everything about the composer. In his pursuit, Clemens became “the world’s foremost authority on the man and his book,” although that was hardly his original intent.

Acknowledging the people, places, customs, creatures, teachings, and developments that fill the world is a step toward knowledge and understanding. But such acknowledgment is often easier in theory than in pratice. In Caryn D. Riswold’s essay on the #MeToo Movement that has ignited during the last several months, she calls it the “newest expression of a painfully old truth.” #MeToo, she writes, is a response to social structures that render entire classes of people invisible, mute, and unbelievable. For survivors of sexual abuse, assault, and harassment, “the grace of being recognized displaces the shock of rejection,” and “When others start to hear and believe the experiences of survivors, it fundamentally alters reality” (page 42). In a similar vein, Lynn Domina’s poem “Extinction Psalm” (page 30) captures the despair of those who feel unheard with a deep love of the natural world, a grief for what has passed away, and a baseline faith that nonetheless endures.

Acknowledgment is not always easy. But it has the power to open the door to something worthwhile.

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