Posted by: cctracker | January 2, 2012

On Questions

My uncle died a few days ago as a result of a terrible automobile accident. He was over 80, but healthy, active and looking forward to years of vitality. I sat in my folks’ living room New Year’s Day talking it over with my Dad.  “I was sitting at Mass today and couldn’t get him off of my mind,” he said. “It could be any of us any time, you know?” He hesitated a moment. He’s 78 and I knew he was thinking about his own mortality. He swallowed the emotion back and continued: “What if there’s nothing else?” After another longer pause he finished the thought: “You know, I don’t think it really changes anything.”

My Dad is a devout Catholic. Teaches adult converts, reads the scriptures, prays daily. He hungers and thirsts for justice and is a model of spiritual authenticity for me. But he’s also a model of truth-telling and humility. He’s never had any room for room for pretense or, as he used to call it as a  younger man: “bullshit.”

As I sat there listening to him go to such a raw, honest and vulnerable spiritual place, I found myself realizing again how vital real questions are in the spiritual life. We didn’t talk much beyond that conversation, but I saw how that question allowed him to get to a place of real poverty before the mystery of life and death.

Whatever our claims about the afterlife, they are not really anything we possess. We have no idea, really, what we’re talking about. The meaning and weight of our individual lives–of life itself– extends beyond our ability for keeping and comprehension.  Poor before these mysteries, perhaps we can be properly reverent about them, properly devotional.

So beginning this enterprise in a new year, I turn to the questions that were a significant part of why I began a blog. I hope to proceed with the kind of  faith my Dad has modeled for me. May the poverty of these open questions be a doorway to both deeper authenticity and deeper devotion.

Here are a few of the questions I’d like to reflect upon in the months ahead:

Can a posture of traditional faith be authentically reconciled with the profound human experiences and intuitions of randomness, meaninglessness, harshness, waste and emptiness?

What are the right interior, intellectual and spiritual postures to assume given the basic insight of evolution: that every design, every function of living things emerges from the utility of  adaptations ultimately driven by random selection? Interiorizing this perspective seems to lead inexorably to discounting the reality–and perhaps the value–of interiority itself.

Given the nature of our species and the vectors of history and current trends, where is the accelerating pace of technological change leading us a species?  Where are the greatest threats? The greatest opportunities?  What practical, philosophical and spiritual tools can guide us not only in coping with these changes, but in channeling them toward authentic individual, communal and global thriving?

Of course these are the fancy, academic ways to put these questions. I might just as well have asked questions like these:

Why does my new iphone 4s make me so nervous?

Why am I stirred to my depths by birdsong?

What lessons and truths does the unspeakable love I have for my wife and my children have to teach me?

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