Living the Questions

Posted by on 01.19.11 | 1 Comment
Filed Under grief, unexpected grace

This quote from Rainer Maria Rilke captured me years ago.

“Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves…Don’t search for the answers.  You would not be able to live them, and the point is to live everything. Live the questions now.”

I feel heartened, consoled, each time I embrace this invitation to both love and live the questions.  Questions are far more familiar to me than answers.  These days, since my CPE Residency is completed,  I work as a per diem half-day health care Chaplain in the city and offer up the rest of my day towards discerning what is next, turning over stones, uncovering the path before me, the questions my constant companions.  Do I stay in San Francisco?  Where is “home” anyway? Is it only within me? Further study?  Economic security (or is that only illusion?) and benefits? Creator God, where the heck am I journeying to now?  Does it matter where, or only that I journey?

I carry this call to embrace questions daily to my patients who have left the realm of certainty and best laid plans.  Sometimes with grace, often with struggle, I work with people whose lives have been broken open with questions.  “Why this…why now..,why me?”  “How will this diagnosis change my life?” “How will I meet death?”

Ms. M is a determined woman of means, well known in her circles for chairing committees and raising support, a beautiful woman even though treatments have claimed all her hair.  She wants to know, to plan what is next, to be in command of her life though she’s now the recipient of care and not the giver.  During a visit we lay out the questions together.  Ms. M examines them like a well dealt hand of Bridge, looking for openings and opportunities.  She nods her head, a tear escaping her eye, and I sense she’s found a question to love.

Mr. S is dwarfed by his hospital bed, curled under a thread-worn green quilt which lends a homey familiar air to the otherwise institutional hospital room.  Disease is consuming his energy, his life.  When I first offer my greeting question “how are you within today, in your Spirit?”, I am so startled by his answer I ask him to repeat it.  “I am blessed!” he says again, more emphatically, a grin tucking his brillo-y beard, more salt than pepper, behind deep dimples. “I certainly didn’t choose to be in this hospital bed, but I can choose how I respond to it, and I know I am blessed!” he asserts before lifting his hand from under the quilt and pointing both his first finger and his deep brown eyes heavenward.

Two young mothers, one with a two year old son, the other with a seven month old daughter, are knowingly walking toward the end of life.  They share stories of their journeys, wondering how their little ones will remember them, questioning how thin the veil truly is between now and forever, assuring each other that love binds through all eternity.

What questions will you learn to love today?  What questions will you live, believing, even on the scariest darkest most uncertain unmapped roads on our journey, we can still choose to feel blessed?

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