Explaining to me that she had a hard time thinking straight; that her thoughts were fuzzy and she couldn’t really form clear plans, I wondered if she might be suffering from depression. It would certainly be a normal response to such a devastating loss. I felt tender toward her and she noticed that and responded. Her eyes even brightened a bit.
The next morning, during a sharing time before the retreat ended, this quiet, withdrawn and shy figure spoke up. She said to me in front of everyone and with notable conviction, “Don’t stop asking people about their dreams!” She went on to say that she came to the retreat without one. Couldn’t even think of a suggestion of a dream as she pondered her life and her tomorrows. But she looked right at me and spoke with an energy I hadn’t seen before. She said, “It’s been good for me to think about my dreams; to wonder if maybe God could have a dream for me and my future.”
Of all the conversations I had and comments I received from this retreat, this woman’s meant the most. “Don’t stop asking people about their dreams.” I won’t. I won’t.
This experience made me think about the power of perennial questions—questions that come up naturally, again and again, throughout our lives. These questions survive through all the seasons of life, even if they die back and go underground for a time. When they come up again, they help us take inventory of life--do an “audit” of where we are and what we want. Perennial questions, like the hostas, Salvia or Sweet William in my garden, aren’t planted anew each year or artificially forced to break ground. They just do, year after year. They have within them a regenerating life force that causes them to come to us just when we need them, when conditions are right for them to break ground and re-emerge during a new spring.
Questions, like these, are the artistic medium of spiritual directors. I’m learning to ask compelling and (hopefully) well-put and well-placed questions to allow a directee to explore the ground around the question; to till the soil, drill down, find the roots and weed out what doesn’t belong. Questions, after all, “raise us up toward God” according to Rabbi Moshe, Elie Wiesel’s mentor. They help press us toward that for which we quest; the voice of God calling us to “arise and come up higher because he has need of us.”
David and I have been asking some perennial questions lately.
· What do we want our 60’s to look like?
· What kind of persons do we want to be?
· What do you want to live for?
Merely asking these questions reminds me that I have some choices to make in life. It’s within me, within my own self-agency, to seek their answers. I’m not a victim of my life circumstances or imprisoned by my personality structures. I can grow and change. There are things I can do and things I can pursue to become the kind of person I desire to be and live the life I want to live. I’m not suggesting it’s always easy or doesn’t necessitate God’s support and strength. It does. It certainly does.
Socrates said that “An unexamined life is not worth living.” I’m inclined to agree with him. And these perennial questions are what help me put on my spectacles and search for answers. What about you? What are you dreaming about? What kind of person do you want to be and what kind of life do you want to live? Don’t be afraid to ask these questions and seek their answers. BE AFRAID NOT TO.