…I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to 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. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903
in Letters to a Young Poet
This is one of my very favorite quotations. Its wisdom has been paradigm-shifting for me. This passage has taught me to live peaceably in the midst of mystery.
Most people don’t like mystery. Much of our collective anxiety comes from grasping for the answers to questions that are often unanswerable.
We have a longing to know what is often unknowable.
We love to be certain. Certainty is treated as some sort of virtue, and its corollary, doubt, has long been seen as a weakness–something to get rid of, to grow out of. Sometimes doubt is cast as a sign of an immature or a lapsed faith.
If you look at the biggest, most successful churches in America, you can see that they are led by pastors who provide their flock with the answers to faith’s questions. From the doctrine of creationism to the assertion that the bible is a unified and completely infallible document (singular), the quick and easy answers seem to satisfy the masses and draw the largest crowds. In these churches, the bible is often regarded as “life’s instruction manual”. The idea being that the bible (as ancient a text as it is and as culturally alien as it should feel to us) has all, or at least most, of the answers to our modern day concerns.
Self-help books that give us simplistic and generic answers to complex issues and even more complex human feelings are still front and center in bookstores across America. We pay big bucks for answers to our questions and solutions to our problems.
I don’t know about you, but every time I read from the bible I end up having more questions than I do answers, but then again, I don’t read scripture longing for answers anyway. I tend to treat faith more as an art than as a science. I want to spend my time wondering and exploring more than trying to pin anything down. I want to look at the bible with my head tilted sideways!
I want to be unsure of what I’m looking at.
As for my faith, I’m skeptical of any sort of certainty. Where I see certainty, I often see shortsightedness, ignorance, and an unwillingness to explore other possibilities and explanations.
When we are certain of our beliefs, we stop searching altogether. We develop tunnel vision. We stop using our eyes and ears, and before we know it, we are unable to see and hear the new things that our Living God is doing right in front of us.
Over the years, I have practiced the art of letting go. I really hate the phrase “let go and let God”, but there’s something to the fact that both Jesus and the Buddha have many overlapping teachings about loosening our grasp on things and letting go of the anxieties we have about tomorrow and living instead for today.
To me this means living with less answers and with more questions. It means less grasping and more gratitude. It means less “why?” and more wonder.
Living with cerebral palsy has been much more about living with the questions than it has been about being certain of much of anything. It may be because of living with cerebral palsy that I’m at peace with ambiguity and unanswered questions. Life with a disability can be inherently disruptive and unsteady, and whenever I have insisted on any degree of expertise to navigate my way through, I have failed miserably.
Walking is a good example of this. When I grow certain of the steadiness of the ground beneath my feet and my ability to hold myself up, it is then that I fall down.
Yes, I know the ground beneath my feet is steady, but I continuously question my own stability and my own ability to walk on top of it. Isn’t it funny that one of my favorite ways of conceiving God is as The Ground of Being beneath our feet! It speaks to me deeply, because I am so sensitive to it, I have such a conscious relationship with it, and I know what it’s like to be disappointed by it.
One question that I live with is this: Why do I have cerebral palsy?
I have no answer to this question. I don’t seek one. I refuse to come to any conclusions about why I have cerebral palsy. Such an exploration could be quite depressing, frankly. If I chased the answer to this question, I might end up a bitter and tired creature who belongs to an imperfect Creator. Perhaps we do have an imperfect Creator, but I refuse, still, to be a bitter creature.
Diving into why disability exists, in a theological sense, sounds to me like a problem of evil question, and nobody has done him or herself (or anyone else) any good by jumping down that rabbit hole. We human beings can lose ourselves in such an endeavor and end up holding onto nothing but our own anxious desire to know what is past our own understanding.
So, instead, I have chosen to live the questions.
Here’s what I know: I have cerebral palsy. Why? I’m not so sure. But I think that’s the wrong question anyway.
Here’s the right question: Knowing I have cerebral palsy, how shall I live?
Patiently–with wonder and with gratitude–I am living that question. I am living many others, too.
Perhaps one day I will live my way into the answer. But I’m not counting on it. The wonder of living these questions is satisfying enough.
Continue walking down this path toward healing with these sacred questions in your hands. Live the questions. Consider as a gift any signposts we may encounter along the way, but otherwise be content with the journey.