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Live Inside the Questions

October 18, 2011

“Letters to a Young Poet” (excerpt)

… have patience with everything unresolved in your heart
and to try to love the questions themselves
as if they were locked rooms or books written
in a very foreign language.
Don’t search for the answers,
which could not be given to you now,
because you would not be able to live them.
And the point is, to live everything.
Live the questions now.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke ~

(Letters to a Young Poet, translated by Stephen Mitchell)

I’ve been asking tough questions lately.  Questions about love and faith and community and sharing God with others.  I’ve been asking questions about work and locations and exactly how long I will be living where I am.  I want to know how long it will take my greater church community to change their views on loving people.  I want to know when my husband and I will be able to move away from the East.  I want to know why my graduate work can’t move any faster.  And I want to know how I can spread my words wider than the margins of this blog.

The questions make me restless.  They make me restless because I can’t uncover the answers.  I have no definitive “yes” or “no” to fall back on, just a quiet and gentle prodding to continue what I am doing, where I am doing it.  This requires patience that I lack and a discipline I’m not always good at cultivating.

But this morning I got a little gift.  I was given a poem to read that put into perspective all of the things I am wrestling with and all of the unknowns I am trying to make knowable.

Live inside the questions.

Just live there.  Sit there.  Grab a blanket and hunker down on the sofa and let all the things I can’t explain or control take shape around me.  Forget the thought of forcing answers out of God and this life.  Forget the notion that those without answers are those without faith.  What is so scary about letting the questions exist with me, as a part of me?  If the questions aren’t going anywhere, and the answers have yet to be found, why don’t I just live inside of them for a little while?  Why don’t I grab my questions by the hand and take them with me on an afternoon run.  I can take them to work, I can take them to school, I can let my questions sit with me at the dinner table.  I do not always have to make them go away so soon.

In a quick-fix culture and a faith community that likes to have more answers than they do doubts, I am going to choose today to live inside my questions.  I will let them be, as they let me be.  Perhaps I will find answers some day, but perhaps not.  Perhaps faith is not always a journey of knowing God’s purpose, but chasing after His mystery.  Perhaps questions and doubts and unknowns are meant to be as powerful a part of life as the day we receive definitive answers.  Perhaps the growing occurs in the courage it takes to ask God  something…and simply just wait.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. lissa permalink
    October 18, 2011 11:44 am

    Wow! I needed to be reminded of this quote today. And, strangely, once your latest blog entry dropped into my in-box I remembered you made a brief cameo appearance in one of my dreams last night. I was walking up a crowded stairwell in a school-type building and heard you say something, and I barely glanced back and realized I recognized you and you were sitting on the stairwell with friends looking up at me as I passed by. WEIRD. We’re on the same spiritual wavelength or something today. Thanks so much!

    • October 19, 2011 5:39 pm

      Ha! Who knows where I’ll show up to haunt you? :-). We are certainly connected in spirit this week…

  2. Erika permalink
    October 18, 2011 1:05 pm

    Dear Friend,

    I think that this is wise. I actually read the same exact excerpt a few years back, and although I am pathetic in my attempts to follow the advice, I think it is good advice nonetheless. I am confident that in His goodness, God will leave nothing unrevealed at the time when it really needs to be seen.

    I love you.

  3. October 18, 2011 5:19 pm

    I love, love, love the way you write and I am so thankful for this poem and this post today. I’m with you in living inside the questions.

    • October 19, 2011 5:40 pm

      Thank you so much! I’m so grateful to know I’m not alone in this journey.

  4. October 19, 2011 1:30 am

    This is one of my all-time favorite quotes. My talented sister-in-law did a calligraphy version of it for me and it hung either in or just outside my pastoral office for 17 years. I believe this is the way to live well and honestly, open to the Spirit, open to the world. Many, many blessings as you live with and in those questions – you will live into the answers one day. (If you’d like to see a photo of my lovely framed calligraphic version, scroll to the bottom of this post:

    • October 19, 2011 5:41 pm

      What a stunning calligraphy piece she made! I’m amazed this was outside of your office for so many years, Diana. I read this poem and saw so much clarity in my own spiritual journey – so glad you directed me to your most recent post.

      • October 20, 2011 2:12 am

        Actually, the post I sent you to was written at the end of last April! And these words are not from a poem by Rilke, but from a series of letters he wrote to a young friend who was trying to become a poet. He couldn’t help but SOUND like a poet, even when he wrote prose. The book is titled “Letters to a Young Poet,” and I had my sister-in-law change one word for me – the original says, ‘dear SIR;’ I had her make it dear ‘one.’ Because to me, these words are for all of us, male and female – so I took a little bit of poetic license myself! (I looked at this passage in a couple of different translations from the German and bought the one I liked the best.)

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