Sometimes we’re looking for answers. Sometimes we want to ask questions. Many of us prefer not to choose between the two, and we desire a religious worldview that makes space for both certainty and uncertainty.
With all the twists and turns of life, it can be a gift to embrace a form of spirituality that makes space for wherever we are on the journey.
Faith communities and their leaders vary greatly in how they approach answers and questions. Instead of passing quick judgments on the approaches of denominations and religions different from one’s own, it’s beneficial to start from a place of compassion.
I recently attended an out-of-town worship service during which the pastor asked the same rhetorical question over and over again, "Why are you here today?" Eventually, he said, "Why are you here today? I’ll tell you the answer. You’re here because you …" The pastor went on to describe his understanding of why we had all gathered there that morning. His approach was meant to provide very concrete answers that he believed would enrich the spiritual lives of those in attendance. He even said explicitly, "I’ll tell you the answer." There are times when many of us grow weary of the unknown, and we want someone to just tell us the answers.
A few days prior to that experience, I worshipped at a congregation that opted to prioritize a different approach. The pastors of that congregation focused on questions during the worship service instead of answers. In fact, that particular family of faith mentioned during the sermon that they’ve spent a lot of time in recent months exploring the questions of their young people and making space for uncertainty. There are times in life when it’s the questions and not the answers that bring peace and a sense of mutual wonderment.
These were both Christian congregations, and the differences between their methods were striking. One worship experience was rooted in answers and the other was rooted in questions. To participate in both in the same week was a source of gratitude for me because the worship services were reminders of the breadth of ways that people make meaning in their lives.
Some denominations and religions are utterly committed to concrete answers. Others are more persuaded by the beauty of unanswerable questions. Most faith communities fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, and most people do, too.
When encountering a faith community or person whose spiritual life is different from your own, it doesn’t seem helpful to start from a place of judgment. Instead, what if we opt to begin from a place of compassion? What if we start by simply acknowledging the reality that there are different ways to see the world and make sense of it?
Let me say concretely: this approach doesn’t mean we all need to passively adopt one another’s perspectives. Far from it! No one is asking us to just combine all our beliefs, creeds, and commitments into one big bowl so we’re left with a bland pot of God stew. No thanks. I don’t want to eat that soup, and I doubt you do either.
We can absolutely hold firm to our own approaches to questions and answers. But while doing so, we can also extend compassionate curiosity toward our planetary siblings. Curiosity is a flavorful spice to add to any kind of soup. Sprinkle some in and give it a try.