Comforting Words: Am I the Question?

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Am I the Question?

Amidst the jokes, cake eating and general joviality of marking the fortieth year of my birth, below the surface of my smiles a question kept popping up in my head – begging my attention. Everyone reassured me that these will be the best years of my life and I believed them as these were people who, as the saying goes, “been there, done that.” Why then was this question nagging me?

Frankly, nothing has changed in my life physically since that fateful day of February 15 when I turned forty. Nevertheless, it feels as though everything has changed. The changes had to do with the question that has been like a mite, quietly but intently eating away at my hesitancy to respond.

If ever there was a “preacher man” who reached me then I would have to admit that he was an aging, white man. His name is John Shelby Spong. I met him some years ago in Jamaica. We spoke one-on-one for about ten minutes and that conversation, combined with his books and his lectures that I had attended, had such a profound affect on me. However, it is the ten-minute conversation that I will always remember and cherish.

Whether “Jack” Spong, retired Episcopalian Bishop, originated this, this ‘thing’ he unknowingly implanted in my heart, I do not know nor do I care. However, the ‘thing’ that nagged me all week had everything to do with what he said to me about my relationship(s) in and with the world. During our conversation, which I am sure he does not remember, he asked me, and I paraphrase – to think for a moment that I am the question that life is posing?

I invite you to join me and ask yourself – “Am I the question?” Walk with me through the Words from Scripture, Words of Comfort and Words from the Heart and see if we are the questions - how then shall we live?


From Sikhism:
Adi Granth, Japuji 28, M.1, p.6

“Let all mankind be thy sect.”

From Judeo-Christianity (NRSV):
Isaiah 56:7

“ . . . For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

From African Traditional Religions:
Buji Proverb (Nigeria):

“The pebbles are the strength of the wall.”

(Excerpt from Sikhism and African Traditional Religions taken from World Scripture: A Comparative Anthology (St. Paul: Paragon House, 1995) 186 - 189


“Question everything. Every stripe, every star, every word spoken. Everything.”

Ernest Gaines, novelist and author of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, is credited with this quotation. This enterprise becomes extremely challenging when turned upside-down and you become the question. Yes, you are the question. You, reading this article, are not the seeker of answers but the question that life is posing to the world.

Looking back, the first time this was suggested to me it went over my head, something which happened quite often when I was ‘young’ and awestruck by someone who I had given “star” status in my world.

It was probably years later after meeting John Shelby Spong and reading yet again his book Living in Sin: A Bishop Rethinks Human Sexuality, as I was going through my journals (something that I highly recommend), checking where I had been emotionally and what dreams were yet to come true, that I came across the entry about the conversation and the suggestion.

“You are the question that life is posing to the world.”

“What?” I thought. “I don’t get this,” I said and continued reading about what I would do when I win the lottery. The suggestion, however, obviously did not leave my consciousness. For some reason, I would not allow it to leave. I would therefore tuck it away and it complied, remaining hidden, waiting for the right moment to resurface. When it did, I would look at it again, considered it much as how one does a treasured dress or pants suit that is too small but you try it on anyway hoping by some miracle it would fit.

“You are the question.”

More time passed, more life-choices made and still this thought remained under lock and key, never really deliberated nor seriously considered. Certainly, life happens and you “go with the flow” and if you are like me, you ask the question “what is the purpose of this life, relationship, job, family member or crisis?”

You pray for help and often enough you feel that your prayers are answered and when they are not, at least not in the way you would have liked, you do your own thing. God must have been too busy or simply does not understand your particular problem!

Still more time went by and the suggestion remained, patiently waiting for me to give it my “full hundred” – as we Jamaicans love to say. I gave it some thought but not the deep introspection that it required until one day I found myself unable to avoid the question – “Are you the question?”

The trouble is, this question is just the tip of the iceberg. Say your response is “No, I am not the question,” you will then be confronted with “What are you then to the world, what is your purpose?” That starts a new hockey game (I live in Canada, people).

Answer, “Yes, I am the question to the world,” and I ‘warn’ you will be entering uncharted territory – one which is as frightening as it is exciting. Once you make such a response then you will need to answer this – “What is the question you are posing to the world?”

How you answer this question will depend largely on how you see the world. To borrow the favourite saying of a popular Jamaican talk show host, if you see the world as made up of “tribes fighting for scarce benefits,” the question you may be posing to the world is: “How much can I grab for me and mine?”

If you see the world as a beautiful place, where people of different races, gender, religious beliefs, culture and sexual orientation can live a full and meaningful life, sharing equitably the natural resources the Creator has provided for all, you will pose a very different question.

We are all “pebbles” in this world, and anyone who has spent the lengtho f time that I have walking on the shores of the ocean will know that they come in different shapes, sizes, colours and texture (and very much include the animal kingdom).

If the ‘wall’ of the world is to be strong, then all its pebbles are important. Each human being must be considered equal, despite and in spite of racial, cultural or religious differences, whether they are man or woman, gay, straight or bisexual, white, yellow or black.

If you see the world as a beautiful place, where animals and other creations are an integral and valuable part, other than food to eat or resources to profit from, then the question that you are will be is: “How am I being in, caring for, sharing and building this world?”

With the deep desire to be this second question, to live in true community, seeing all humankind as my sect and to build a house of prayer for all, I have decided to live the message that Bishop Spong teaches: “Live fully, love wastefully, be all that I am capable of being.”

What is your question to the world?


Give us enough this day dear Divine. Enough love, enough food and enough people to share both with.

Give us enough troubles and enough joy, so that we will remember to count our blessings.

Give us enough shelter, enough clothing, and enough money so that we will be ready for the journey.

Give us enough of your Presence dear Divine, so we will never forget that in you we live, move and have our being.

Blessings, until next week.


Blogger Betty said...

"The questions we ask, determine the type of lives we live, the kind of answers we seek." This is an unattributed quote that I have within my eye range at work. I think it's similar to what Spong poised.

I too have found Spong to be a comfort since I started to challenge the beliefs of the Anglican Church. His words made a profound impact on me a few winters ago when I drove to Saskatoon to hear him deliver te keynote speech at a conference. At that particular point in my life, it was very meaningful to have this old Southern self-admitted, one time bigot, validate that to live a Christian life one has to embrace each others differences rather than use them to separate.

I've heard Bishop Spong speak twice since; both times he's reaffirmed to me why the mainline Anglican churches cringe at people like him having a voice. He definitely does challenge his readers and listeners to move from the comfortable pew.

I hope I *AM* the question to those in my life. Sometimes it can be very lonely yet when I look in the mirror I feel at ease with the essence of whose there; especially if I don't get stopped up with the superficial aspects of myself.

I'm not surprised you are molling over turning 40--although I wish I could even REMEMBER being 40! Whether it is a noted milestone or some other influence in our life, situations arise where thinking, feeling people do stop and ponder.

For me it was the recent death of a dear friend's mother and a realization my own death is nearer than it was yesterday. It was then I asked myself again, am I asking "why" often enough and effectively to those who can answer, or to those who should answer, or to those who need to care enough to answer.

Sat. Feb. 19, 03:42:00 p.m. MST  

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