By: Tamara Roberts, MDiv ’08
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
The first time I heard Mary Oliver’s poem The Summer Day was from the pulpit. My minister read with such skill and such love, I fell into the poem whole. When he spoke the final line—the question at the top of this blog—the words took my breath away, and tears ran down my cheeks. The question took up residence in my soul, and all these years later, it comes to me in moments of prayer and in times of discernment. Questions, for me, are a kind of sacrament. They have a holy power.
With all apologies to the Book of Proverbs, fear is not the beginning of all wisdom—questions are. My husband and I homeschooled our daughters from 1st grade until they went to high school, and one of our greatest allies in that effort was the fairly new-at-the-time internet. Like children everywhere, our girls were cauldrons of curiosity—What makes thunder and lightning? Why are ladybugs red? Who was Jesse Owens? What are the seven wonders of the world? Every day brought new questions, and with the help of the internet, a few keystrokes brought answers—it was a homeschooler’s paradise.
As our girls grew, they never stopped asking questions. Of course, their questions changed over time, became more complex, more nuanced. Over time, my role changed too. As they asked deeper questions, I was not so much charged with finding answers as with simply being their companion in curiosity. And together we delved into questions that had no easy answers. We tried on possibilities, explored options, considered opposing views. Getting to be a part of that exploration was one of the greatest joys and privileges of my life.
As the girls grew, I had more time and energy to put into my other great passion—ministry. In ministry, as in parenting, I have come to understand the centrality and importance of curiosity, of exploration, of pondering and of wonder. I love working with folks of all ages, but it is youth and young adults who most remind me of the power of questions—and of their role in the life of faith. Currently I am working with my home church—University Congregational UCC—to revitalize our ministry to young adults. As we are located just across the street from the University of Washington, we believe we are uniquely positioned to offer up a vision of a life of faith radically different from the caricature portrayed in the media.
We aren’t quite sure how to go about it, but we want emerging adults to know that a life of faith:
- encourages risk taking
- helps us go deep—to the root, to the heart of a thing
- frees us
- helps us aim our lives toward blessing others
- fosters a deep connection with our fragile planet
We want to share the Good News:
- that God is love
- that everyone, everyone, everyone belongs to God
- that faith is healing, transformative
- that faith is NOT incompatible with science
As I have dreamed and schemed, planned and brainstormed, trying to discern the path ahead, one of the things that came to me was a list of questions—Questions You Can’t Google. Questions You Can’t Google are just what they sound like; they are questions that require more than a simple fact check—they require us to use our heads and hearts. They are the only questions that really matter in education—they are the only questions that really matter in faith—they are the only questions that really matter in life.
When was Martin Luther King born?—Google it. What made Martin Luther King a great leader? You can’t Google that.
What are the names of the apostles?—Google it. What does it mean to follow Jesus? You can’t Google that.
Where can I get a copy of my Birth Certificate?—Google it. What do I want to do with my one wild and precious life? You can’t Google that.
For just as my children’s questions evolved from a thirst to know the facts—the who, what, when, where of life—into an ache to figure out the deepest truest things at the heart of it all, the journey of life calls us to evolve from a desire to have all the answers to a deeper desire to live all the questions.
Here are some of the questions off my list:
Questions you can’t Google
What is my passion? What is my call?
What is the meaning of my life?
Does God have a dream for me?
How can I use my talents best in this beautiful and broken world?
What is faith? Does faith change anything?
What has my story been? What do I want it to be?
I am not sure how the ministry ahead will evolve but I do know that asking holy questions, sitting together as companions in curiosity, doing the work of deep discernment—these things are central to faith development—that is to say they are key to our path to becoming the people God dreams us to be.
I believe questions are a kind of sacrament—they are a way we reach out to the Holy One; they are a way the Holy One reaches out to us. May it be so.
Tamara Roberts is on the path to ordination in the United Church of Christ, currently seeking a call to parish ministry. She has served as a minister in several churches in the greater Seattle Area, and is currently working with her home congregation, University Congregational UCC, to revamp revitalize and reimagine Young Adult Ministry. She graduated with her Master of Divinity degree in 2008, and has returned to the School of Theology and Ministry to pursue a post-master’s certificate in pastoral counseling. She loves running and cycling, reading and writing, cooking and eating. She and her husband recently launched their daughters to college and are newly empty-nesters in North Bend. She currently blogs at A Live Coal in the Sea and would love to see you there.