Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Walking the Questions

In his "Letters to a Young Poet," Rainer Maria Rilke gives some good advice:

"Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."

Lisa and I were hiking the Claremont Canyon this afternoon, breaking in our hiking boots. Last year we were doing the same thing, only breaking in different boots. Kilimanjaro demanded stiff, warm mountaineering boots; the Camino requires shoes that are flexible and breathable. Different boots, but the same question: where will the blisters be?

I don't know about living the question, but we're well on our way to walking the question. Maybe we'll even walk into an answer. Other questions will find us on the way, questions we can't even frame now. We'll walk those questions too. We intend to take a few questions with us. Last year, though, everyone had a question for us: "Why do you have to climb Kilimanjaro?" The question always caught me up short. Then, Lisa would get this wild look in her eyes: "Because it's there!" I would just shrug and say: "Well, somebody invited us to come along." That usually shut people up.

In retrospect, those were pretty good answers, and they signal two habits of the heart we will need. Lisa invoked the spirits of George Mallory and Mt. Everest: "Because it's there!" She signals a spirit of surrender. Kilimanjaro had a "fierce landscape," as theologian Belden Lane put it. It reminded me of Job, stunned into silence after listening to the voice from the whirlwind: "I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you...." (Job 42:5). Some in our party felt they "conquered" the summit, as if it were something they achieved. Lisa and I felt keenly that the mountain let us ascend -- and we did so with both awe and gratitude.

And my answer expresses the spirit of invitation. Kilimanjaro wasn't on my bucket list, i.e., something I needed to do before I died. When invited by friends, though, including a native Tanzanian, I could only say yes! I didn't have many expectations; I didn't even need to make the summit. I tried to respond in the spirit of Abraham, invited by God on a journey --without being told where he was going! He trusted the one inviting him.

Surrender and invitation: these will probably be good to keep in our backpacks.

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