It happens every day, and sometimes I am genuinely grateful for it. A question surfaces in conversation and then, quick as a blink, someone pulls out a smart phone, finger types the question and announces the answer. The name of a movie or the year it was released; the population of Memphis or Manila; the distance between here and there and the time it takes to traverse it….
Lately, however, I have been wondering: could it be that all of these answers just a finger-tap away are making us less tolerant of questions better left hanging in the air or lingering in our hearts for a while without quickly finding or formulating an answer? (NB: That’s a question meant to be pondered; don’t answer it just yet, please!)
Last year Google told us the most searched query of the year was the question “What is love?” You can find this pretty quickly, and more about Google searches, on-line. But what you cannot find, or at least I couldn’t, is whether anyone who typed in that search had their question answered. What is love? Could anything short of volumes of poetry and a long life well lived answer a question like that? What is love? Personally, I like the idea of carrying the question around for a while – maybe a whole lifetime – and noticing the many answers that will, in time, orbit around it, creating a whole little solar system of love.
In a ceramic jar that sat on my personal altar all through seminary, I have a bunch of questions that I’ve been reluctant to answer too quickly – and equally hesitant to lose track of. During those years of discerning my call in seminary, whenever a good question arose while I was meditating, instead of batting it away like the monkey mind from which it came, I would write it down on a small slip of paper and put it in the jar. It helped to know the questions remained near at hand, even when I stopped thinking about them while meditating; it also helped that there was a lid on the jar to keep me from hauling them out to look at all of the time.
Now the jar sits on a higher shelf, but still nearby. Every so often, I take it down and rummage through the questions, equally gratified by those that now seem to have clear answers as by those that are just as baffling now as they were a decade ago when I wrote them.
It turns out, smart phone or not, I still like Rilke’s wisdom:… [T]ry 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.