It Will Not Go Away
Amid the jokes, cake eating and general joviality of marking the fortieth year of my birth, below the surface of my smiles a question kept popping up in my head – begging my attention. Everyone reassured me that these will be the best years of my life and I believed them as these were people who had, as the saying goes, “been there, done that.” Why then was this question nagging me?
Frankly, nothing had changed in my life physically up to that fateful day – February 15 – when I turned forty. Nevertheless, it felt as though everything had changed. The changes had to do with the question that had been like a mite, quietly but intently eating away at my hesitancy to respond.
If ever there was a “preacher” who reached me, then I would have to admit that he was an aging, Caucasian man. His name is John Shelby Spong. I met him now almost two decades ago in Jamaica. We spoke one-on-one for about ten minutes and that conversation, combined with his books and lectures that I attended, had such a profound impact on me. However, it is the ten-minute conversation that I will always remember and cherish.
Whether “Jack” Spong, retired Episcopalian Bishop, originated this‘thing’ he unknowingly implanted in my heart, I do not know nor do I care. However, the ‘thing’ nagged me for over a week and had everything to do with what he said to me about my relationship(s) in and with the world. During our conversation, which I am sure he does not remember, he asked me, and I paraphrase – to think for a moment that I am the question that life is posing?
After he said that, I went to my many religious and spiritual books from around the world for tips. For weeks, even months, I asked myself and readers to my first blog, to ponder this and invited them to ask themselves: “Am I the question?” The aim was to understand whether we are the questions and if yes, then ask the follow-up one: How then shall we live?:
“Let all mankind be thy sect.” (Sikhism) Adi Granth, Japuji 28, M.1, p.6
“ . . . For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” (Judeo-Christianity – NRSV) Isaiah 56:7
“The pebbles are the strength of the wall.” (African Traditional Religions) Buji Proverb (Nigeria)
(Source: Excerpts from Sikhism and African Traditional Religions taken from World Scripture: A Comparative Anthology (St. Paul: Paragon House, 1995) 186 – 189)
“Question everything. Every stripe, every star, every word spoken. Everything.”
Ernest Gaines, novelist and author of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, is credited with this quotation. This enterprise becomes extremely challenging when turned upside-down and you become the question. Yes, you are the question. You are not the seeker of answers but the question that life is posing to the world.
Looking back, when first time suggested to me it went over my head, something that happened quite often when I was ‘young’ and awestruck by people, constantly comparing myself to those who seemed to be “better off” than we were. It was probably years after meeting Bishop Spong, re-reading his books, going through my journals from earlier years (something that I highly recommend), checking where I had been emotionally and what dreams were yet to come true that I came across the entry about the conversation and the suggestion.
You are the question that life is posing to the world.
“What?” I thought. “I don’t get this,” I said and continued reading an article about what to do when you win the lottery. The suggestion, however, obviously did not leave my consciousness. For some reason, I would not let it. It was tucked away, complied, hidden, waiting for the right moment to resurface. When it did, I would look at it again, considered it much as how one does a treasured dress or pants suit that is too small but you try it on anyway hoping by some miracle it would fit.
“You are the question.”
More time passed, more life-choices made and still this thought remained under lock and key, never really deliberated nor seriously considered. Certainly, life happens and you “go with the flow” and if you are like me, you ask “What is the purpose of this life, relationship, job, family member or crisis?” You pray for help and often enough you feel that your prayers are answered and when they are not, at least not in the way you would have liked, you do your own thing. God must have been too busy or simply does not understand your particular problem!
Still more time went by and the suggestion remained, patiently waiting for me to give it my “full hundred” – as we Jamaicans once loved to say. I gave it some thought but not the deep introspection that it required until one day I found myself unable to avoid the question.
You Must Answer
“Are you the question?”
The trouble is, this question is just the tip of the iceberg. Say your response is “No, I am not the question,” you will then be confronted with “What are you then to the world, what is your purpose?” That starts a new hockey game (I live in Canada, people).
Answer, “Yes, I am the question to the world,” and I ‘warn’ you will be entering uncharted territory – one which is as frightening as it is exciting. Once you make such a response then you will need to answer this – “What is the question you are posing to the world?”
How you answer this will depend largely on how you see the world. To borrow the favourite saying of a popular Jamaican talk show host, the late Wilmot Perkins, if you see the world as made up of “tribes fighting for scarce benefits,” the question you may be posing to the world is: “How much can I grab for me and mine?”
- If you see the world as a beautiful place, where people of different races, gender, religious beliefs, culture and sexual orientation can live a full and meaningful life, sharing equitably the natural resources the Creator has provided for all, you will pose a very different question.
- We are all “pebbles” in this world, and anyone who has spent the length of time that I have walking on the shores of the ocean will know that they come in different shapes, sizes, colours and texture (and very much include the animal kingdom).
You Are A Unique Answer As Well
If the ‘wall’ of the world is to be strong, then all its pebbles are important. Each human being must be considered equal, despite and in spite of racial, cultural or religious differences, whether they are man or woman, gay, straight or bisexual, white, yellow or black.
If you see the world as a beautiful place, where animals and other creations are an integral and valuable part, other than food to eat or resources to profit from, then the question that you are will be: “How am I being in, caring for, sharing and building this world?”
With the deep desire to be this second question, to live in true community, seeing all humankind as my sect and to build a house of prayer for all, I decided many years ago to live the message that Bishop Spong teaches: “Live fully, love wastefully, be all that I am capable of being.”
What is your question to the world?
This was originally posted to my first ever blog in 2005. It is revised and republished here today as the question that I am continues to be posed to the world and my wish to share with and support you consciously be the question in your world. When you become a member of this community, you receive a daily update of these posts as well as Weekday Wisdom© to be the question that you are. You also get my monthly free newsletter right in your inbox so sign-up today!