“Your questions are of the devil,” I was told at an evangelical youth conference in high school. My insides responded confused, “huh? What the hell just happened?!” But, instead of speaking up, I went along with the adult in the room and regretfully shut my mouth.
Over twenty years later, I find myself in seminary, pursuing ordination, and more full of questions than I’ve ever held. Only now, I remember to show them off like treasures, reminding others and myself that questions innately connect us to the divine by the very fact that they belong to mystery. Now, I claim my curiosities and doubts as boldly as my sexuality–with pride. I remember to bask in the questions––because they mean growth, change, my continual becoming, and perhaps most importantly––unknowing.
But, loving the questions in all their infinitely unanswerable ways seems impossible most days. It’s an easier task when I have something to hang on to. When I have a tangible or tactile sliver of evidence or hope. But when there’s nothing? Living alone in the midst of a pandemic when I find myself craving a sense of safety and knowing, I often wonder is it too much to ask to just be able to know or trust something, or someone?
While reading Alice Walker’s “Her Blue Body Everything We Know: Earthling Poems, 1965-90,” I came across a poem citing Rilke’s suggestion to live and love the questions. This unlikely duo struck me: Alice Walker and Rainer Maria Rilke?
In his seminal work, Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke writes with aspiring poet, 19 year-old Franz Xaver Kappus. Within their many exchanges Rilke wrote to Franz on July 16, 1903:
“Be patient towards all that is unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms, like books written in a foreign tongue. Do not now strive to uncover answers: they cannot be given you because you have not been able to live them. And what matters is to live everything. Live the questions for now. Perhaps then you will gradually, without noticing it, live your way into the answer, one distant day in the future.”
Walker, on the other hand, expands even more on these notions:
I must love the questions
as Rilke said
like locked rooms
full of treasure
to which my blind
and groping key
does not yet fit.
and await the answers
mailed with dubious intent
and written in a very foreign
and in the hourly making
no thought of Time
to force, to squeeze
I grow into.
Unlike Rilke, Walker moves me into my body ––she offers me a tangible means of what it means to love and live the questions, she expands upon the metaphors of unknown language, unsealed letters, and an inaccessible door –– she enlivens and awakens my questions.
Why does it matter? For me, questions are the fruit of a life fully engaged. My doubt reminds me to take on my questions, to search the books, ask the neighbor, to grow, learn, and expand. Doubt belongs to faith in the same way that mystery belongs to God.
My teenage questions were not of the devil and neither are my 37-year-old doubts.
When I arrived back home after that trip with my youth group I remember the shock and surprise my young teenage self felt. Being that I was the only “nonbeliever” (evangelical lingo) on that trip I was a kind of project for people to huddle around and convert. And amid all of that misinformation and emotional manipulation, amid all of the lies and false certitudes, the divine accompanied me in all my questions, doubts, and uncertainty. The divine was — and is, my questions and doubts.