Sister Act 2, Rilke, and Living the Questions

One of my favorite movies when I was a kid was Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. Aside from the comedy and how beautiful it was to hear Lauren Hill sing “His Eye is on the Sparrow” in her pre-Fugees era, I loved the idea of someone so young having such a firm grasp on what they wanted, and trying to figure out how to overcome obstacles to get there. Even obstacles like Lauren Hill’s mom wanting her to reject her identity as a singer because of fear and past suffering.

There’s a scene where Whoopi Goldberg gives Lauren Hill’s character a book, “Letters to a Young Poet” by Rainer Maria Rilke, and has her read it so she can figure out who she is and what she wants. I always wanted to read that book just because it was in the movie, but I never did.

Now, I’ve read “Begin Again” by Leeana Tankersley 3 times over the past month because it makes me feel like there is someone out there who gets me, and like maybe I’m not as crazy as I thought, maybe I’m just in the middle of Erikson’s intimacy vs. Isolation stage. In that book, she uses some quotes by Rilke. So I ordered it from Amazon this week, at the behest of Sister Act and Leeana Tankersley, and much to my husband’s disapproval. (There may or may not have been several packages this week and every week. I am who I am. There is nothing more to say about that).

Yesterday I finally started Letters to a Young Poet, and there is so much in it that I love. But one of the passages that I’m still sort of marinating over is in the fourth letter. 

It says, “You are so young, so before all beginning, and I want to beg you as much as I can, dear sir, to 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 written in a very foreign tongue. Do not seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now.”

Now, I know some people think this level of introspection is useless, but I am not one of those people, and I have been on a journey of some heavy duty introspection this year. I have been trying to figure out who I am, what I believe, and most importantly, why I believe it. Being a person raised in the Bible belt and taught all my life about the sovereignty and kindness and majesty of God, you have to re-evaluate when so many bad things happen in a row. You just have to. And here, in a letter from 1903, a German poet has summed up the answers I have found so far. 

Live the questions. 

I have always been one to search for answers. To dissect something. To read about it, study it, make it fit the framework of my understanding so that I can connect it to the rest of my life and knowledge in a meaningful way. But what I am finding is that the universe has no inclination to bend to my will. My living cannot be done in the answers. My living must be done in the questions. 

And you know what? This journey, this finding of who I am and what I believe has been lonely and difficult at times. But it has also been and continues to be so much fun. I’m finding that I love my contradictions. I love that my mother was loud and irreverent and also called to such a holy life. That I love that my dad likes numbers and order but also Scooby Doo cartoons. And that maybe I am the best kind of combination of them both. That I love Jesus but somehow have the vocabulary and sense of humor of a 14 year old boy when his parents aren’t watching. 

I think all of the best people are walking contradictions, and that unraveling the layers of who we and our loved ones really are is one of life’s greatest gifts. I enjoy catching glimpses of myself and my husband in the day to day interactions of my children. And I love that I have a soft place to land every day when I’m exhausted from my mind racing until it hits a wall.

I am finding that I enjoy living in the questions, because that’s where all the meaningful stuff is. If you’re searching for answers, like me, I wonder if you could take a minute to enjoy the beautiful chaos that is living in the questions. It’s uncomfortable but oh so worth it. And read Rilke. You can pretend I didn’t get the suggestion from Sister Act 2 if it makes you feel smarter. You’re welcome. 

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