"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."
My son Sylas is nearly four and has no inhibitions in regards to the questions in him. They arise from his depths and spurt out onto the canvas of the world, voracious in their flow, begging only for an authentic response of any kind. I expect that as he journeys towards adolescence, the questions will move deeper into his body and he will become less free to speak them as self-awareness and cynicism set in. The world that awaits him is one that deems the inquiry less than its answer, the one who inquires less than the one who answers. The curious soul begs: "Where is it safe to ask all the questions I have? Is it ok to not be ok with the answers I have been given? Is there room for me in this process of discovery?"
It was the questions that brought Ruth and I to Seattle, 5 years ago, to this little graduate school tucked away in a nearly un-marked business complex in Bothell (The first question was- "where is it?"). They were questions about God, church, identity and community. We sought answers, for I had been told that the process of maturation was oriented towards the end of questions and the having of answers. Standing here, upon graduation, I can say that I know something more of God and have caught glimpses of who I am to be in creation. But it is not in that I have answers that I feel ready to graduate, but in that I now know the value of a good question, am learning how to ask better questions and have begun to learn how to live with unanswered questions.
The first month of my first semester, we became pregnant with our first child. We now celebrate the birth of our third. My MDiv studies have had the gift of being augmented by the intertexts of 3 children. If there is anything that children invite one to, it is the particularities of life- into the living of everything. And the point is to live everything. Will we hear the invitation to risk (which is ultimately the invitation into creativity)? How will we live into the questions when the making of mistakes has been so stigmatized that we are terrified of being wrong?
It is when this fear of being wrong has moved so deeply into my body that I become paralyzed by pride and settle for answers and ways of being in relationship that leave my heart out of the conversation. Mars Hill Graduate School has been a space where I have learned to step back into the sort of dialogue where I can hear and be heard, where together, we can experience the fullness of life and transformation. Here, I have learned alongside my peers and professors how to creatively risk in inquiry and to play with those questions whose answers I am not yet able to live.
One thing I have learned about the nature of questions- When I parent and I am lazy or disengaged, I offer answers that abruptly end my son's voracious stream of questions to relieve myself of this seeming burden. When I am present to his questions, I am learning to offer answers that increase his curiosity for the world, leading to deeper and more playful questions. As a theologian and an artist I have become hungry for the answers that expand my curiosity for the Other, that lead me to the articulation of more meaningful questions and a more consistent presence to dialogue. These, I am convinced, increase my capacity to worship God and participate in his Kingdom.
I am grateful for my brilliant peers and patient professors who have invited me to learn in this way. So, to us, the graduates: May the creative Spirit of God continue to lead us into the questions we are uniquely called to ask and struggle with in this life. May we never be so proud that we become resistant to transformation. May we hold all answers loosely until we are able to actually live them- and in doing so, might we bless the world.
[photo by Joshua Longbrake]