by Sister Marianne Watts, OP “CHANGES”

The other day someone mentioned that his blood pressure had risen unexpectedly days after hestopped eating salt. About five people gave him an explanation for it. He hadn’t asked for explanations and none of these people had any medical expertise, but they all gave him answers. . . “maybe it’s because” answers. Have you noticed that people seem to need to give answers? Why is that? If you tell people that you always feel grumpy on Thursday mornings, how many of them will let you rest comfortably in this mystery before they need to explain it away?

Are people just being kind? Do they offer answers in the same way that they would provide a band-aid for a cut? Or are answers the mark of one’s excellence? From early school days, we learned that having the answer was what success was all about. Gold stars, honor rolls, all that. As we grew older, this belief grew stronger. To have answers was the way to master any situation, to control the unknown. . . another word for Life. In a sense, where to find the answers is life’s goal.

Well, where do you find them?

Everyone failed a quiz I gave to a 7th grade CCD class. A representative question on the test was “Who is God to you?” The class told me the answer wasn’t in the book. I told them I knew that. They looked at me with total incomprehension. I had broken some contract between us: The book always has the answers.

The book that many people believe has all the answers is the Bible. Is this true? Was the Bible compiled as a factual guide to life? According to Father Richard Rohr,

“The Bible illuminates your human experience through struggling with it. [It] is a book filled with conflicts and paradoxes and historical inaccuracies. . . . It is filled with contradictions and it is precisely in learning to struggle with these seeming paradoxes that we grow up—not by avoiding them with a glib one-sentence answer that a sixteen-year-old can memorize. If I had settled for the mostly one-line answers to everything from [the] Baltimore Catechism, my spiritual journey would have been over in the third grade. And for many people, otherwise educated in other fields, that is exactly what happened. We created people who have quick answers instead of humble searchers for God and truth. God and truth never just fall into your lap, but are given as gift only to those who really want them . . . .”

Think about Abraham and the story of the almost-sacrifice of his son Isaac, a sacrifice directed by God. When children first hear it (Do you remember Bible History in your first or second-grade religion classes?), they probably feel upset because God seems to want Isaac to be sacrificed; relief comes when the angel tells Abraham to spare his son (emphasizing the happy ending). Or later, church-goers will learn to see Abraham less as a person than as a symbol that foreshadows God the Father who will permit the Romans to kill His Son, Jesus, to save humankind (with the emphasis on metaphorical rather than historical realities).

And still later, a deeper focus on the story might give rise to questions about justice and cosmic disobedience: If I were Abraham and God ordered me to sacrifice my son, how would I respond to God? What if I said No?

Much later, maybe I would compare the God of Abraham—the God who asked a father to kill his son—with the father (also a God-figure) of the Prodigal Son, who ran to welcome home his sinful son with love and forgiveness and a big party (thereby frustrating his other son who had always done the right thing and never been recognized for it!)

Where would this exploration lead? Certainly not to a neat answer! But maybe to deeper insights into human relationships and awareness of the ways they lead to Divine relationships, through stories of shifting meanings. Maybe to a new appreciation of not trying to solve things, but of remaining open and vulnerable to the mystery of being human, and finally, of being you.

(The 7th grade CCD class eventually forgave me and became more open to the amazing idea of God as friend.)