I am still basking in the glow and a bit exhausted from our Women’s Retreat this weekend. Many of our people are still there at La Foret Camp in Colorado Springs, a beautiful site of the Rocky Mountain Conference of the United Church of Christ. We send them our love from afar! We prayed and sang around the spot where Lapp Lodge will be and we gave thanks to those who have gone before us to pave the way.
Our theme for the retreat was questions and how we thoughtfully live with all kinds of uncertainties as we age. We drew from the words of one of my favorite poets, Ranier Marie Rilke who wrote, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
At this point in my life and spiritual journey I find that I have far more questions than answers and that can feel unnerving or unsatisfying. We live in a culture where there is a tendency to settle on the first answer or the first person to claim to be right. This means answers are often short-sighted and superficial.
Especially at this moment in human history, increasingly, I find that questions are far more interesting. And given the state of life in this country and on planet earth, perhaps it is our duty to ask if it is time for fewer answers and more questions.
Because the answers of yesterday are like shackles, chaining us to old solutions, forcing us to wallow in decisions long proven-wrong. From wars started on false premises to tax plans that bring resources to the top, while blaming the bottom, we must stop turning to old answers and start asking new questions.
Until we risk the pain and discomfort that will come from freeing ourselves of old answers, we won’t be able to explore the questions we have not been allowed to ask… Is this the world we want?
As I shared at our retreat, questions were central to Jesus, the core element of his teaching. It turns out that Jesus asked over 300 questions, 307 to be exact. And he is asked 183, but he only answers 3. 1
Perhaps this means that questions are more valuable to us than answers…
Questions lead us on a journey, they invite more seeking, instead of stopping where we are. Questions demand that we keep going, knowing there is still more to be revealed. Questions linger and won’t leave us alone. They invite us to endure, to stick with it, to hold on.
In Rilke’s words, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue Live the questions now.”
Living the questions means the future is yet to be determined. The answer for this moment in time has yet to show itself. The story has yet to find the next chapter. And it also means we could change or life could change or our view could change. We might not need the answers to the questions we asked once before. Questions, uncertainty, change. These are the uncomfortable invitations of our faith.
In the words of Octavia Butler,
“All that you touch
All that you Change
The only lasting truth
And here in this piece of Hebrew Scripture that you heard this morning, God says, “I will change my mind…”
In this part of the longer narratives found in the prophetic texts of the book of Jeremiah, God is a potter and humans are the clay- to be breathed and molded to life or squished and reduced to formlessness- in the words of the story, “Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. 7 At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down.”
And what many in Western Christianity take from this, is an anthropomorphized view, where God is in charge and we must obey or we can be squished like bugs, pushed down like a lump of clay while the potters’ wheel spins on.
But in a book called Heart of the Torah, Rabbi Shai Held contends that what this truly points to is the possibility that God has plans and those plans can change. Rabbi Held writes, “According to Jeremiah, the Divine is willing “to act in new ways in response to Israel’s behavior.” Further, “God’s responsiveness to human freedom applies not only to the covenant people, but to other nations as well.”
This is a story of God responding to what happens in real time. This is not a God that is distant from the movement of creation, even God can change course.
Whatever name we have for the energy, the Life Force, the Presence between us and among us, I believe it does not operate in a closed system. It is an open source spiritual Universe.
It was in college that I first came across the ideas of Alfred North Whitehead whose writings pointed to what is called Process Theology. It is a school of thought grounded in metaphysics and philosophy. And instead of a theological perspective in which God is all powerful and therefore allowing the world to be like this. In Process Thought, the Life Force, the Spirit, our God, is change and has the power of persuasion rather than coercion. God is the great influencer, the great mover. God is an energy that can lure, summon, respond as events concresce and unfold. This means the future is not yet determined. It is all still being formed. “The universe is characterized by process and change carried out by agents of free will. Self-determination characterizes all of the Universe. God cannot force anything to happen, but rather only influence the exercise of this universal free will by offering possibilities.” 2
This means that even God can change.
I don’t speak from a place of ever having successfully changed God’s mind, at least not to my knowledge. Anyone else? But I do believe that the energy beyond us, isn’t unaffected by our experience. God is moved by us, somehow a part of what comes into being.
The word Immanuel, which Christians often sing and pray only at Christmas means God With Us. Whatever God is, It is with us. And I believe It responds to our free will, inviting us toward the most beautiful, healing, generative possibilities before us. The Great Beyond responds to what happens in real time, which means even God can change course.
Whatever God is, it is with us, moving, molding, pulling us. We are then summoned to ask new questions, to hold uncertainty, knowing change can be the presence of the Sacred and doorways into the spaces we need to go.
Beloved of God, even where you are unclear, afraid, unsettled, live into your questions. As you heard from the poet, John O Donohue, “In out-of-the-way places of the heart, Where your thoughts never think to wander, This beginning has been quietly forming, Waiting until you were ready to emerge….” So then, “Awaken your spirit to adventure; Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk; Soon you will be home in a new rhythm, For your soul senses the world that awaits you.”
The answers of yesterday are like shackles, chaining us to old solutions. So if our God said, “I will change my mind…” Then maybe, just maybe we can too. May this be so. Amen.
1 Jesus Is the Question: The 307 Questions Jesus Asked and the 3 He Answered by Martin B. Copenhaver