Some books change your life. For me, one of these is Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Pulitzer prize-winning author, Annie Dillard, which I read about 20 years ago. This literary masterpiece tells the story of Dillard’s year at Tinker Creek, diving into the mysteries and wonders of the natural world. I remember being amazed, shocked, awed, and amused at what she discovered as she described her revelations with both strikingly intelligent scientific insight and a deeply spiritual reverence.
After reading her words, my experience of the world changed completely. The universe I saw through Dillard’s eyes was far bigger, more diverse, more plentiful, more beautiful, and more mysterious than anything my years of faith had taught me. Under her guidance, my simplistic faith, so certain that everything could be explained and understood in the pages of Scripture, was severely rattled. Suddenly I discovered the magic of questions, of curiosity, of not knowing, and of seeking even when it was clear that no simple answer would ever be found.
A FAITH OF ANSWERS
Growing up in church we used to sing a song that began “Jesus is the answer for the world today…” The faith I was taught was presented as:
- the solution to every problem,
- the answer to every question,
- the map for every terrain.
I soon learned that there were questions that just were not to be asked, and that doubt was a sure ticket to hell. So completely did I absorb this faith that when I completed my undergraduate studies in theology, my peers awarded me an Ostrich Award – for successfully burying my head in the sand and rejecting the wisdom of modern biblical scholarship!
Eventually, thanks to thinkers like Dillard, I learned that my answer-based faith was too small, too confined, and too blinkered to be sustainable in the real world. My questions did not go away, they simply waited in silence until life knocked down my certainties one by one, and then the questions came bursting out with a force that was both frightening and liberating.
As Richard Rohr notes, Jesus seldom gave straight answers. Apparently he is asked 183 questions in the Gospels and only answers 3! But Jesus did ask a lot of questions – 307 of them!
LIVING IN PERPETUAL CURIOSITY
At least part of what Jesus meant when he called us to become like children is that we should never lose the childlike capacity for curiosity and questioning. In Michael Dowd’s Advent of Evolutionary Christianity (http://thegreatstory.org/ec-leaders.html) (a series of conversations with scientists, theologians, philosophers, artists, and speakers) we are offered three basic truths that form the foundation for a curious, childlike faith:
- A “deep time” framework of 14 billion years for understanding the universe and our place in it;
- Evidence as Divine communication, in which science, reason, and experience are recognised as valid sources of Divine truth;
- A global perspective in which we move out of self-centred, nationalistic, or in-group thinking and recognise that we are all connected, beloved, and intrinsically valuable.
When our spirituality embraces an evolving, evolutionary perspective, it stops being closed, certain of its own correctness, and static. Instead it becomes open, creative, dynamic, growing, and much more welcoming and compassionate. In a world where information is seen as power, it can be revolutionary to make curiosity our priority, but I encourage you to take the chance, ask lots of questions, and discover the difference.
Perhaps you’d like to explore a curious spirituality right now?
- Leave a comment below: How have you engaged with evolutionary thinking in your own faith journey? How can you bring your faith and the revelations of science together more this week?
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- And don’t forget to invite others to join the journey!
Over to you!
Discussion, robust debate, and respectful disagreement are encouraged. However, shaming, attacking, and trolling are not. Please keep the comments on topic, and kind. Any comments that violate this ethos will be removed.
I believe Jesus is the answer, but we all see Him through such a clouded lens of what we have been taught, our culture, history, time, space , all of which we experience differently, and our own pain, joy and experiences all of which are flawed.However dimly we see Him, He Himself says He is the answer.Science does not contradict Faith or negate it,scientific revelation only strengthens faith and hope for me.
Jesus nearly always answers a question by asking another, or answering the question by invoking curiosity. Jesus is experienced differently by everyone , but is none the less the answer.
Thank you for your thoughts, Meryll.
You are absolutely right when you speak of how culture and what we have been taught affect how we see Christ, and how we all experience Christ differently. You are also spot on when you say that science does not contradict faith. Unfortunately too many people of faith would disagree with you, though. And for me, that is a tragedy.
You say that Jesus himself said that he is the answer. I’m not sure what your source for that statement is? I am not aware of any place in the Scriptures where Jesus said, “I am the answer.” I’m also interested to know why you feel that it is so important, even in the light of everything else you have said, to see Jesus as the answer. To what is he the answer? How does it help us to view Jesus in terms of being an answer in some way?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Thanks again for taking the time to engage! 🙂
At the end of the day are we saying Jesus is not the answer ? Am a bit confused as Jesus is dynamic to me . Maybe I am misunderstanding ?
Thanks for your comment, Vernon. This is a great question.
Let me respond first by saying that I absolutely agree with you – Jesus the Christ is dynamic to me too. And that’s exactly why I challenge the popular idea of Jesus as “the answer.”
It’s not that I would say Jesus is not the answer. For me it’s that the whole concept of answers is foreign to what Jesus is about. To say Jesus is THE answer is to imply, first, that there is only one answer to any situation, question, or challenge. I’m not convinced that is ever the case. Secondly, to say Jesus is the ANSWER is to imply that life is a problem to be solved, an equation to be worked out, or a single great question to be correctly answered. Again, I am not convinced that this is the case. It is certainly not my experience. And it is not the witness of the Scriptures (or any sacred text) either.
So, what I’m saying is that perhaps it’s time to let go of the idea of answers, and instead think of Christ as an invitation to mystery. Perhaps it is more helpful when we acknowledge that Christ is far bigger, more complex, and unknowable than our brains can ever imagine. Because only then – in my opinion at least – is our God (however we may understand God) big enough to be worthy of the name. A God who can be wrapped up in an answer – whatever that answer may be – is just too small and simplistic for me to believe in.
I hope this response may offer you a little more clarity?
Thanks again for engaging! 🙂
Years ago when I was working in a church context we were asked to talk about how we experienced Jesus. I said for me Jesus was/is the personification of Sophia/wisdom and that means asking the hard questions and being open to mystery. This was not well received… I was told that I needed to pray to “Jesus as my saviour”. I was left feeling like an unwelcome heretic. But to be accepted clearly meant a level of inauthenticity that Jesus never modelled…
John your take on this gives me spiritual oxygen… I feel liberated and not shut down and shut in. Thank you
I am so grateful to hear that you find this helpful, Caryl – thank you!
I hope that you never feel shut down or shut in at EvoFaith. But if you do, please let me know and we’ll make sure to open the windows and set you free again! 🙂
Jesus is the way not the answer.
We follow the actions of Christ in how we deal with the ups and downs of our life’s journey.
That is not the same as having an answer.
We work through the possibilities listening to the prompting of God within.
Sometimes we will get it very wrong, what we can say is that Christ is in and with us on our journey of discernment.
I wonder if you know another Pulitzer prize poet Mary Oliver?
Thank you for your comment, Joyce.
I like the way you distinguish between following Jesus and having an answer. I agree completely.
I know of Mary Oliver’s name. I think I have come across her, but I can’t say I am familiar with her work. I’ll definitely have to make some time to educate myself. Thank you for the recommendation.
Oh to love what is lovely, and will not last!
What a task
of anything, or anyone,
yet it is ours,
and not by the century or the year, but by the hours.
One fall day I heard
above me, and above the sting of the wind, a sound
I did not know, and my look shot upward; it was
a flock of snow geese, winging it
faster than the ones we usually see,
and, being the color of snow, catching the sun
so they were, in part at least, golden. I
held my breath
as we do
to stop time
when something wonderful
has touched us
as with a match,
which is lit, and bright,
but does not hurt
in the common way,
as if delight
were the most serious thing
you ever felt.
I have never seen them again.
Maybe I will, someday, somewhere.
Maybe I won’t.
It doesn’t matter.
is that, when I saw them,
I saw them
as through the veil, secretly, joyfully, clearly.
Snow Geese Mary Oliver.
Oh. My. Word!! That is so incredibly beautiful!
Thank you, Joyce!
I think being brought up in the Methodist Church helps in this respect – Wesley urges people to ‘think and let think’ and the ‘quadrilateral’ of 4 inputs to theological reflection (scripture, tradition, reason and experience) should allow us to look at a range of factors in any ‘answer’ or exploration
The Methodist quadrilateral has been a great help to me too.
Thank you for your thoughts, Jenny.