by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, July 3, 2016
Having begun my career as an English teacher, I’m pre-disposed to notice words of all kinds, including words in sentences. So the types of sentences we learned in elementary English classes–declarative, imperative, interrogative, exclamatory—are embedded in my consciousness. And when it comes to reflecting on the life of the spirit, I’ve found that the power of the question mark is a good place to start.
Some time ago, I was intrigued by the title of Warren Berger’s book, A More Beautiful Question. His thesis is that good questions are powerful. They can reveal desire, purpose, and commitment. They can be catalysts and create forward movement. They can be transforming and life changing. They can surprise, disturb, excite, inspire, and nudge us. They can act like flashlights that illuminate where we need to go.
A More Beautiful Question made me pay closer attention to questions popping up everywhere, including in the Scriptures:
Why are you weeping?
How can this be?
Who are you looking for?
Why do you search for the living among the dead?
Just a few days ago we celebrated the birth of John the Baptist. The same John, languishing in prison, who sent his followers to ask Jesus one of the most poignant questions in all of Scripture: “Are you the one who is to come or should we expect someone else?” In other words: “Tell me, please. Have I been wasting my time preaching, pouring out my life, and pointing to you? Or are you the real thing?”
In Saints Peter and Paul, whose feast we recently celebrated, we’re reminded of some of life’s biggest questions, questions of identity and belonging. Saul, who became Paul, first hunted Christians and threw them into prison. Later he’s knocked off his horse by a blinding light, and what happens next? He hears a question: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And Saul answers the divine question with his own: “Who are you?” Who are you? Because he pays attention to these questions, Saul/Paul spends the rest of his life in pursuit of the change of heart this persecuted God invites.
In the Gospel passage for the feast of Peter and Paul, we see that Jesus holds some questions of his own. It seems there are all kinds of rumors going around, and Jesus wants to know, “What do people say about who the Chosen One is?” In other words, “What’s the word on the street about me?” The disciples cough up the usual safe responses: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.
But Jesus wants more. He invites fresh thinking and deep reflection. He goes right to the personal, to the heart, and asks: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter responds, “You are the Messiah, the Firstborn of the Living God.” Because he’s been trying to pay attention, to notice, to listen, Peter is able to live into this question at that moment and in the days to come.
What about us today? We also are asked the question, “Who do you say that I am?” Who is God for us? How we identify the Divine, how we live into that question, will impact how we relate to all of our sisters and brothers—the joyful, the broken, the fearful, the doubting, the oppressed, the excluded, the searching. Our call is to pay attention, to notice, to listen for the Spirit at work within us, among us, around us in the dailiness of our lives.
Questions invite us to a deepened awareness. As we pray and reflect on the stuff of our lives, we’re also tending to the interrogative, the question marks in our lives:
For what am I most grateful?
What is God grateful for in me?
What draws me or attracts me? What grabs my soul? What do I resist?
What is my deepest desire?
What is God’s desire for me?
The writer Jan Philips says that when we look at the brokenness and fragility of our world and the collective hunger and longing of the global community, the questions we listen to and notice are critical. She says that the question we should be asking is not:
What is wrong with our world and how can we fix it?
The question is:
What does the world we want to live in look like?
Because if we can imagine that world, we can also, with God’s grace, give ourselves over to living out that question with fresh thinking, with creativity, with tenderness and compassion for all who inhabit our planet. May we continue to contemplate sacred questions, alone and in community. And may we pursue all this in good company and for the life of our beautiful, yet wounded world.
What question/questions are you currently holding in your heart?
How might God be inviting you to learn from or grow into these questions?
Take a moment to unite your own searching with the longing and yearning of our world. Hold all of this in your prayer today.
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My thanks to all who prayed for those on the directed retreat I led at St. Mary by the Sea, Cape May Point, NJ, last week. Please also hold in your prayer those who will be part of the next directed retreat at St. Mary’s, July 7-16. Thank you!