There is a question that lives within you, often unbeknownst to you. All the same, it is alive and well, though often buried deep within. If you come to know it, to welcome it, to embrace it, celebrate it, explore it, struggle with it, you will grow, deepen, change, and you will give freedom for other questions…life challenging…life transforming…life giving questions to arise.
Coming to know God in a conservative Christian denomination, I was never told that questions are our friends. Questions were frowned upon, seen as doubting God, the Bible, and showing a lack of faith, rather than invitations to explore, know and embrace God and oneself. Even as I entered seminary, questions were merely tolerated rather than being greeted with cheers, excitement and anticipation.
All this changed for me on February 7th, 1982. On that day, or rather during the days and months following that day, the question(s) within could not, would not (and I believe should not) be silenced any longer. On that day my image of God was battered and bruised beyond all recognition, as was the church bus and most of those inside when it careened off the road and down the side of a mountain. Within minutes after the bus had slid on its side to a stop, myself and many others were being airlifted to local emergency rooms in the area. We were the lucky ones. Two of the students were carted off in body bags. We were on our way home from a weekend retreat. It had been a marvelous time of being immersed in God, God’s word, one another, and the beauty of creation.
As I waited my turn in the emergency room, scenes of the accident flashed in my mind, and a question began to form deep within me. At first the question was shapeless and wordless. It was a question in the gestation period. When it had reached full term it would be birthed in me. That is, if it could survive through the pregnancy.
News of the accident was broadcast over the radio and television and within a few hours, people…pastors, family members and friends…began to arrive at the hospital. It was the arrival of these good and well-meaning people that almost brought my question to an untimely end.
They were not question nurturers. These were scared people who wanted to have the answer, who wanted to believe in a God that always protects and keeps their children safe. Period. End of discussion. Most (not all) of these people were locked and loaded when they arrived. They were ready to take aim at any question that might show itself, whether it be in themselves or others. Their weapon of choice was the RM 8:28, (all things work together for good…) a very efficient question killer.
Whenever a question would begin to emerge, a few rounds from a RM 8:28 would be shot and immediately followed by short volleys of “it could have been worse” and “God was gracious”. The questions never stood a chance. One by one they were shot down. Even my own question was seriously wounded during one of these exchanges. You see, it could have been worse, and God in some ways had been gracious. However, two students did die. One, whom I had baptized only a week earlier, had a favorite verse…it was Romans 8:28. The other student was not even a member of our youth group, just a kid who came with a friend. Plus, many of the other students had been seriously injured. The God I knew was not supposed to let things like this happen to God’s church children.
My question struggled to survive. It was moved to intensive care with strict orders – no visitors. There it would remain until it was ready to be birthed. There it would be safe from rounds of the RM 8:28’s.
I will never forget the day of its birth. It was far from serene…it was unnerving, even frightening. The question came out screaming, “How can a loving and powerful God allow something like this to happen?” And the question kept screaming! It would not let me sleep at night, and during the day it was just as demanding. I wanted nothing to do with it, but it would not quiet down. I had to do something, so one day I grabbed the question, held it close to my breast, and the question settled down. Strangely, this is when my relationship with the question began to change.
As I held the question close, I began to stroke it and gently explore it. I found myself holding the question more and more, marveling at it and receiving it as a gift. As we became friends, the question took me to places in myself and in God that I had never been to before. The question introduced me to a God both terrible and marvelous, a God who welcomed and invited questions, embraced angry and confused people, a God unlike any God I had encountered before, a God who, rightly, could be called infinite, loving, gracious…Yahweh…”I will be who I will be,” God. My question remained unanswered and to a large degree still does. But my question, my friend, brought me to a new awareness, a new depth, and a new appreciation of the complexity and otherness of God. I learned that questions are to be celebrated, welcomed, nurtured, and received as gifts with excitement, fanfare and great anticipation.
After the birth of my question, I shared it with all those who had been on the bus with me and anyone else who would listen. Some who heard the question embraced it and held it close to their breast, while others pulled out their RM 8:28’s and blasted the question into eternity.
Time marched on, students got married, started families and moved away. I left that church and area as well. But, in February of 2002 we re-assembled once again, 20 years after the bus crash. As I spoke with those in attendance it became painfully clear that those who 20 years earlier had embraced and explored the question were at a much different place than those who had blasted the question into eternity. The faith and experience of God for those who had received the question was much deeper and more pronounced than the others.
I instinctively knew that was going to be the case 20 years earlier when I gave birth to my first question. You see, my life has never been the same since. It was then I stopped giving answers and began to ask questions and help others nurture, articulate and give birth to their own questions. It was then the seeds of spiritual direction were planted deep within my heart and soul. I came to realize through my pregnancy and the subsequent birthing of my question that God is discovered, explored, revealed and embraced in the question. It is the question I am called to birth in others. It is the question that becomes the doorway to personal transformation, growth, and maturity in Christ. That is why I am a spiritual director, or rather spiritual mid-wife (to borrow a concept from Margaret Guenther). I come alongside others to help them give birth to their questions so they can come to know and experience God and themselves as never before…viva la question!
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