Monday, September 23, 2013

Questions without Answers

Every Wednesday morning, our congregation holds a small Matins service in our small chapel.  We pray, we sing, we hear the scriptures.  There is a short homily.

This week it was my turn, and, as I had Sunday School and Faith Formation on my mind, I decided to ask the worshippers about their experiences and memories of Sunday School.  What did they learn?  What did they remember?  Several people remembered the songs that they learned, or a favorite Sunday School teacher.  One woman offered that she learned in Sunday School that "The adults in the congregation cared about me."  Others remembered memorizing Bible verses or the catechism.

One woman shared that one of her Sunday School teachers had posed the question, "Is it better to be in church, but thinking about being our in your fields, or out in the fields, but thinking about God?"

"And you still remember that, even all these years later," I said.

"Well, I'm still not sure I know the answer," she replied.

I thought that Sunday School teacher was awesome.  I've been thinking about it all week.  This woman was given a question that has haunted her for her whole life, something she has been mulling over and considering.  She doesn't know the answer, and yet she keeps coming back, keeps digging deeper into faith and life and doubt and hope.

When we think about Christian education curriculum, what do we think about?  Songs?  Stories?  Prayers?  I do believe that the foundations of faith are the stories of scripture, the songs and prayers we learn, the prayers we make out of our hearts.  But then again,  what if a large part of the curriculum is questions?  And what if some of the questions don't have answers, except for the answers that you live every day of your life as a disciple of Jesus?

I can't help noticing that Jesus asked a lot of questions.  It's true, he also prayed and he told stories too (although a lot of those stories held a lot of questions as well).  In fact, when people asked him a question, he almost always answered them with another question.  He gave them not just something simple that they could hold in their hands, but something they could mull over, consider, and live with for the rest of their lives.  He gave the something they could return to at different ages and at different stages of their lives.

"What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?"

"Who do you say that I am?"

"Do you love me?"

"What do you want me to do for you?"

We have often thought of the value of faith formation for the answers it provides, and for simple foundational statements we can cling too.  But what if the value of faith formation also lies in the questions that don't let us go, but that haunt us, and keep us coming back, digging deeper into the resources of scripture, song, lived experience and prayer?

A friend called me once because her three-year-old daughter was asking, "Where is God?  and she wasn't sure how to answer.  I searched and searched around and finally found a wonderful little book for three-year-olds and I sent it to her in the mail.  But it occurs to me now that "Where is God?" is not just a question for three-year-olds.  It is a question you can ask at three and at thirty-three, and at one hundred and three.  It is a question we can spend our whole lives asking, and answering, and asking again.

Is it better to be out in the fields, but thinking about God, or in church, but thinking about being out in the fields?

What do you think?


Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

Maybe faith would be more attractive to a wider group of people of practitioners were taught to live with the tension of having questions. Too often religion attracts people who want the safety of black and white answers.

8thday said...

Well, if that is not a rhetorical question - I would say it is MUCH better to be out in the fields thinking about God. A church is a man made structure, where in my experience, people are more concerned about the building and keeping their "club" going than the things Jesus actually taught us to be concerned about. Being out in the fields is being out in God's creation. What better place to be amazed and say "thank you"? I don't think it was by accident that Jesus left the temples and organizations of his youth and went outside to preach.

That rather cynical comment made, I agree with Ruth Hull Chatlien - I think religion should focus more on the importance of questions.

My most remembered Sunday School experience was a 3rd grade teacher who said "its okay if you don't believe in God right now. There will come a day when you will."

She took away all that angst about feeling guilty that I didn't believe what everyone seemed to believe. And in the end, she was right : )

Hot Cup Lutheran said...

thinking similar thoughts lately... that for too long perhaps we've not let there be honest room for questions, for wresting, for the church to be okay being the place where we simply don't have to have it all together or figured out...

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

Love it. I am not sure I believe in God right now either. (And not because of Ken's suffering.) But someday I will again. I used to think that the day would come when I didn't have too many questions left unanswered. However, that has not been the case. The longer I live the fewer answers and certainties I have.

Rev SS said...

what 8th day said

Rev SS said...

what 8th day saide

Laurie Franklin said...

I have a favorite quote tacked to my bulletin board; “The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts while the stupid ones are full of confidence ..."