Jul 29, 2010

Who will ponder my questions?

Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith is divided into three main parts - Look Within the Heart, Look to God in the Book, Look to Others in Community. Chapter 1 of Look Within the Heart asks - "Who will answer my questions?" Nouwen uses the following parable:

Many years ago, there was a young man who searched for truth, happiness, joy, and the right way of living. After many years of traveling, many diverse experiences, and many hardships, he realized that he had not found any answers for his questions and that he needed a teacher. One day he heard about a famous Zen Master. Immediately he went to him, threw himself at his feet, and said: “Please, Master, be my teacher.”
The Master listened to him, accepted his request, and made him his personal secretary. Wherever the Master went, his new secretary went with him. But although the Master spoke to many people who came to him for advice and counsel, he never spoke to his secretary. After three years, the young man was so disappointed and frustrated that he no longer could restrain himself. One day he burst out in anger, saying to his Master: “I have sacrificed everything, given away all I had, and followed you. Why haven’t you taught me?” The Master looked at him with great compassion and said: “Don’t you understand that I have been teaching you during every moment you have been with me? When you bring me a cup of tea, don’t I drink it? When you bow to me, don’t I bow to you? When you clean my desk, don’t I say: ‘Thank you very much’?”
The young man could not grasp what his Master was saying and became very confused. Then suddenly the Master shouted at the top of his voice: “When you see, you see it direct.” At that moment the young man received enlightenment.

The parable is a bit strange; all parables are. I haven't received enlightenment; not by a long shot. The gist of the chapter is "Ask and live the questions" - so even the opening question - "Who will answer my questions?" - must be lived, not answered. I'm trying to do some of that. I made a list of who could simple be present with me as I ponder the questions of my life, without trying to answer my questions for me. My list includes some family, friends, and pastors, and excludes some family, friends, and pastors. My list includes some Catholics, some Protestants, and excludes some Catholics, some Protestants. Some Catholics would too quickly and easily say 'the Church' is the answer to my questions; while some Protestants would too quickly and easily say 'the Bible' is the answer to my questions. The problem with both of these answers is they are not personal. Both the Church and the Bible as personifications of theology and of Truth. The Bible and the Church are institutions of people who lived and live the questions.

Some of my questions right now are:

  • Is there a God?
  • What does God want from me?
  • What is the Church?
  • What is sin?
These are just some questions I ask in 5 minutes of contemplation. None of them have easy answers. Each of them is open to many lifetimes' worth of exploration. Nouwen says, "Sometimes, in living the questions, answers are found." I asked "What does God want from me?" on Sunday afternoon. My Monday morning pray-as-you-go reading was Micah 6:8: "You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God." And yet this "answer" opens more questions - How do I do right? How do I love goodness? How do I walk humbly with God? These too must be lived.

The other half of that Nouwen quote is, "More often, as our questions and issues are tested and mature in solitude, the questions simply dissolve." And so I go on personifying and living my questions - these questions and others. I am eager to ponder and live my questions with others, but not with those who might dictate my life with easy or simple answers.


Saint said...

I read somewhere, but unfortunately forgot where... a good question isn't one that leads to an answer, but to more questions.

luke said...

I think the 'who' part is very important. Questions leading to more questions is better than questions leading to answers. But, it's all internal and introspective and limited in my mind.

The 'who' aspect means I let my questions lead to life - me, God, and others.

caedmon said...

I'm not going to respond, other than to, well... uh... I guess all I can do is let you know I'm here and reading this alongside, but don't want to pretend or presume any more than that.


luke said...

Thanks man. I'm glad we're blog buddies. It's cool to find like-minded wanderers - "questers" - here on the interwebs; someone from my (Protestant) church tried to answer a couple of big questions with short easy answers.

When she said "Great Faith is Great Surrender." I asked, "where's that from? "Great Surrender" is like the "absolute trust" ... I don't know that I've ever had it. what about "Great Participation" or "Great Cooperation"? that rings closer to my experience."

To which she reponds:

"Participation is a by-product surrender. The whole of participation begins with an empty and surrendered soul. In King James - In my flesh dwells no good thing."

So I wrote:

"Which comes first - participation or surrender? I'll have to ponder this week - is participation a by-product of surrender or is surrender an act of participation?"

To which she promptly replied:

"Surrender--freefalling into God. John seventeen --that they may be one even as we r one. Let everything all of worship all of life be a result of surrender to the one who first loves us. That is what gives meaning--power--satisfaction to all r being and doing. In Him i live and move and have my being."

It's not necessarily that these thoughts are *wrong* as they are shortcuts. Well, actually applying John 17:21 to the topic of willful faith does seem wrong - since its original context is for the unity of Jesus' followers. Even Acts 17:28 is a bit of a stretch - unless we assume that Paul's quotation of Hellenistic poets is a reference to the problem of free will as explored in classical Greek philosophy. Romans 7:18 applies a little better since it's focused on the conflicting natures of man - the human will and the spiritual will.

But this is why many Protestants are not on my list! As Protestants we grow up around these or those verses and we speak them so flippantly that they become trite and trivial - to be used to answer any and all questions. It just seems so rehearsed and staged.

caedmon said...

You're hitting on why most of my wrestling remains in my paper journals. I have a couple close friends I can talk to about it, but even then, they all too often think I'm asking them to fix some problem and want to fix it as quickly as possible, rather than just come along for the ride.

caedmon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
luke said...

In my philosophy book, I read about Thomas Acquinas characterization of "connatural knowledge" - knowledge which follows on the lived experience of the truth, the living contact of the intellect with reality itself, a knowledge which may be obscure to the knower and overlaid with elements from the affective or feeling side of man's nature.

I like that.

Matt said...

I don't really have anything constructive to add. I just wanted to say...

Good stuff. Keep asking the questions. I hope I never get caught delivering (or accepting) 'simple' answers again. Henry Nouwen is awesome.

That's all.