A good friend who knows a little about my spiritual journey sent me an article this week from Hadassah Magazine. The article in fact is an excerpt from Elie Wiesel’s new book Open Heart. As with his earlier works, especially Night, it is a current reflection on his lifelong struggle with the spiritual question Why? Wiesel, you might recall, is a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and is also a survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald.
This question Why? has been a central theme of my journey, starting when I was a child trying to understand the deaths of two sisters to spina bifida. My work as a psychotherapist has only heightened the intensity of the Why? that I shout. True, much of our suffering we bring on ourselves. But much of it we don’t.
I and others I know often judge ourselves to be of weak faith (or are so judged by others) because we keep asking the question. As I read Wiesel’s words, I came to a passage that I had never noticed about myself: “I confess to having rebelled against the Lord, but I have never repudiated Him.” I realized that I too have rebelled but, to the best of my knowledge, have not repudiated the God of my understanding. There are indeed many days I argue with Him/Her. But I’ve not stopped believing.
Wiesel later makes the rather mystical statement: “…there is a level at which only the questions are eternal; the answers never are.” God, after all, does not answer the Why? question other than to say variations of “I am Who am.” The answers to Why? are those of humans, not God.
In his wonderful book The Heart of Philosophy Jacob Needleman argues that we should regret the loss of questions about Life. he notes “For most of us, our questions are educated out of us by the time we reach so-called maturity.” Needleman clearly views this as unfortunate: “Life has a new meaning when a new question appears.”
Doubt in some ways seems like a dirty word. A sin. In fact, I see that my doubts are merely questions, the chief one being Why? I further see that, rather than being impediments to a relationship with God, they are doorways. Thus, I rejoice when I hear Wiesel say “Since God is, He is to be found in the questions as well as in the answers.”
Amen to that! Perhaps I should retitle my last book Turtle on the Fencepost: Finding Faith through Questions!
Relection: What questions shape your spiritual journey?
Further Reading: Elie Wiesel Open Heart and Night
Harold Kushner The Book of Job: When Bad Things Happened to a Good Person
Thank you for this beautiful post, Richard. I have only one response, and it comes from the poet Rainer Maria Rilke: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
Excellent post, Richard! I too, like you and Mr. Wiesel (and I think most people) have rebelled against God and yet, at the same time, have never stopped believing. As to the question of why…well, I ask that question all the time and have even talked with my good friend who is also a Chaplain, about it, and his response was, “Someday we’ll either find out or it won’t matter.” As I’ve grown older I find it easier and easier to live with that.
Very moving and thought-provoking…P
The question that should shape your spiritual journey is ” Is it now everywhere?” A wise child once said that. Date: Thu, 2 Oct 2014 17:45:01 +0000 To: firstname.lastname@example.org