“What are you reading?” he asks, diving onto the bed, pulling Nana’s afghan over his body as he curls next to me.“Some poems,” I answer, showing him the cover of the Wendell Berry collection I picked up from the library. “I don’t usually read poetry,” I admit, “but sometimes it’s good to try something new.”
“Read me one,” he says, pulling the afghan up to his chin.I flip through the book to find the the shortest poem. I read “To Know the Dark” aloud, because it’s only four lines:
To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.
“So what’s the answer?” Rowan asks.“What do you mean, ‘the answer’?” I say.
“You know,” he says, “The answer. The answer to the poem.”He thinks it’s a riddle. Too much Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, evidently.
“Oh honey, there’s no one answer,” I say. “That’s the hard part and the wonderful part about poetry, there’s not just one right answer.”He pauses a moment, considering. “It’s a bat,” he says. “It’s about a bat.”
I read the lines again. “Yeah, I can see how you would say that,” I say. “Because of the part that says ‘without sight,” and the ‘dark feet and dark wings.’” Rowan nods, pleased.He stays under the afghan to hear another poem, and then, concluding this one is about a tiger, he leaps off the bed and out the door, leaving me under the afghan alone, thinking about his question.
What’s the answer?I think sometimes I approach faith the same way Rowan approached the poem. What’s the answer, I want to know. THE answer. And while I know that Jesus is the be-all-and-end-all answer, and that’s all, in the end, I really need to know, I often find myself grappling for other answers to questions that gnaw at me, the why questions.
Why did my cousin die before she reached age 30?Why did my children’s grandparents die too soon, leaving them with this empty, awful grief?
Why do 26,000 kids die every single day because they don’t have access to water, something as simple and readily available as water?Why, in short, does suffering exist? And why doesn’t God do anything about it?
I want THE answer to that question. And others.Religion, like poetry, doesn’t provide all the answers. We might get hints. We might get flashes of clarity, moments of illumination, but a lot of the time, we live in the dark, turning questions around in our heads, trying to figure out the why, searching the Bible for answers, praying for the peace that passes all understanding.
Maybe though, what I need to do is revisit the answer I offered Rowan about poetry. Maybe the hard part and the wonderful part about questions in faith is that there isn’t just one right answer.
Maybe God doesn't give us all the answers because we need to know the dark, to go dark, to see for ourselves that even the dark blooms and sings.
“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.” -- Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
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