Live the Questions 💭
I offer no pat answers, but neither do I swirl around forever in the questions
While I travel with my family in Costa Rica and continue my internet break, my writing friend Lore Ferguson Wilbert has kindly shared a few words for us here in The Commonplace. I hope it’s just what you need to hear today. - t
Eleven years ago, on a hot July day, I sat on my back porch and read a quote by Rainer Maria Rilke that changed my life. I don’t use that phrase lightly, as in “These tacos will change your life,” or “This trip will change your life.” I mean it literally, the words of Rilke changed the course of my life in almost an instant.
I was 29 years old, employed by a church and deep in the throes of the deconstruction of a faith I thought I had. I had wanted to leave the church and area for years and always felt held back by all the questions I thought I needed to have answers to before I left. Questions like, “Where would I go?” “Who would be there?” “What would I do?” “How will I live?”
Up until this point of my life, I had felt stuck in the chaos of a dysfunctional upbringing, an understanding of the Christian life that was more behavior modification and moralism than it was abundant life, and in a perpetual cycle of depression, anxiety, poverty, and doubt. More than anything, I wanted stability and certainty. I wanted surety and something bedrock upon which to stand and live and hide and flourish. Nothing in my life offered me that, though, and everywhere I grasped for certainty, answers, and a plan, I was thwarted.
On that July day I opened a greeting card with the words of Rilke on the front:
Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
“Live the questions?” I thought. “How does one do that?”
I have never heard the voice of God before or since, but I swear to you reader, I heard the voice of God in that moment. The voice said, “Move to Texas.” And I replied, “Hell, no.”
I had no idea that within weeks, I’d pack up my little Honda Civic with every earthly belonging and would begin a long trek down to Texas from my hometown in New York. I had no idea that living into the unknown, stepping out and taking a risk, would result in some of the most beautiful and most painful years of my life. All I knew was that a God I barely believed existed, was asking me how far I’d go to prove myself wrong.
What does that mean to “live the questions,” especially for Christians who find Jesus as the final answer? There are narratives in the Bible that pose simple questions with difficult answers—“Where are you?” or “What have you done?” are not merely questions from God to Adam and Eve in the garden, they are questions we all engage and grapple with in complexity. We all ask, “Why was I born?” and “Why do I have to look at injustice?” but sometimes the answers are not what we hoped.
All faith is blind, in a sense, but that doesn't mean it has to be ignorant. The mechanics of our faith matter and if we fail to allow for that in the Church, we will find more and more believers deconstructing with no rubric for reconstructing. Questions make room for this and I'm convinced—now, more than ever—we need that space in the Church.
I recently wrote a book called A Curious Faith. In it, I try to gently and simply bring the reader along on an exploration of some of the questions we often ask, modeling what it looks like to live as a curious Christian. I offer this small, simple book as a glimpse of what this could look like in the Church. I offer no pat answers, but neither do I swirl around forever in the questions. I have found the answer is the love of the Father and the Father’s love for the Son and the Son’s love for the Holy Spirit, but I’m grateful I took the scenic route there.
We all need to take the scenic road more often. I know I do. …I learn this every year during my internet break, so no doubt I’m learning this again as you’re reading this. Good books need good readers, and perhaps you’re one of Lore’s — read A Curious Faith and add more good words in your life and in the world.
Ora et Labora,