Questions, questions, questions. Always the questions. What if…? Will someone find out if…? Will it matter if…? What will happen
if…? Won’t I look foolish if…? Who will know if…? Will it matter if…? Beautiful questions? No. Not beautiful questions.
Self-undermining, fearful questions.
Doubts, doubts, doubts. Always the doubts. I don’t think I can… I won’t have enough… Something bad could happen… I’m not strong
enough… They won’t like it… I don’t have those skills… No one will help us… It won’t matter anyway… We can’t
trust them… Doubts to be cherished? No, not doubts worthy of being cherished. Self-sabotaging fearful doubts.
I titled this sermon, ‘Beautiful Questions’ and I’ll bet that you thought I had some grand plan in mind for a thoughtful, poetic, erudite sermon based
on lots of background reading and study. In other words that you thought I knew what I was talking about. But, no. If you thought that, you’re
wrong. I had no idea really. It just came to me and I went with it because I needed to get that dreaded title and blurb sent in to the office so
the monthly newsletter could be published. It even seemed a silly title, but I stuck with it for no reason other than Voltaire’s quote, which is
in your hand.
But then, do you know what happened? I discovered that many people before me have used that very same expression as a way to think about questions
and how important it is to ask the RIGHT questions, especially of ourselves. I perceived Socrates I guess, percolating, streaming, distilling through
the consciousness and intellect of the ages, down to T.S. Elliot’s (which I just learned about) “Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question” which is from his introduction to a volume of collected poems.
Today is Day One of the year 2017 and I think you’ll agree that it feels like our individual, our communal, our national, and our global lives are
engulfing us in questions and in fearsome doubts right now; What will happen to us? To my children? To my grandchildren? To our planet Earth? Peace
or war? Justice or injustice? Fairness for all or unequal treatment of peoples? Health for all or health for some? Will we be a compassionate people?
The questions swirl endlessly around and among us right now; the big question though, and the beautiful question hopefully, is ‘how am I going to be, to live, to relate to the world that the two thousand and seventeenth orbit of the earth around the sun, since Christians started numbering them anyway, presents to us?’
How will I do that? Will I do it in defensiveness? In supportiveness? In ill will? Respectfully? In cooperation? In meanness? In vengeange? With enthusiasm?
In unhelpful obstructionism? With a generous spirit? Will I be strong enough to avoid making decisions based in fear alone? Can I avoid resorting
to ridicule? Will I find the courage to stand up for what I think and believe is healthy and right for all? Will I have the patience and fortitude
to truly listen to and be respectful of those with whom I disagree vehemently? Will I have the courage to speak for and act according to the principles
I hold most dear?
What will I do? How will I be in this new turning of the world?
Today, January 1, is also the 7th day, the last day, of Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa is the seven-day-long celebration of African American culture,
family, community, tradition, and the future that was started by Dr. Maulana Karenga on the West Coast in 1966, 50 years ago. Kwanzaa holds up
7 principles and celebrates one on each of the days of Kwanzaa. The principle that is honored on this 7th day is the principle of Imani
or Faith. It is a day of quiet, of meditation, and of self-reflection.
Dr. Karenga describes Imani in these words. “Imani teaches us to believe in the good, the right and the possible and in the righteousness and victory of our constant striving and struggle to expand the realms of freedom, justice, and peace and to lay a solid basis for human flourishing and the well-being of the world. Imani reminds us to keep the faith of our foreparents who taught us this enduring ethical obligation: to know our past and honor it; to engage our present and improve it; and to imagine a whole new future and forge it in the most ethical, effective and expansive ways.”
And on this Day of Meditation three hard, and beautiful, questions are asked of oneself;
Who am I? Am I really who I say I am? Am I all I ought to be? May we all be wise enough at this difficult time to stop and to be still,
to look to Imani, and to ask ourselves those three hard and beautiful questions.
It takes courage to truly ask the beautiful questions. Easy questions, fearful questions usually bring answers that are limited by that fear. Carl
Sagan (sa gun), the astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist, and many more things too, said, “We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and by the depth of our answers.”
Easy answers get us nowhere, whether we are considering the mysteries of the physical universe or the mysteries of one’s own path into the unknown
future. Easy answers based on questions limited by fear will not be helpful or healthy. Easy answers keep us stuck in the same old place, with
no kick in the behind to get us out of that old place and into a probably scary, but a more dynamic, current, life-nourishing, and community-nourishing
Here are some questions to ponder: I can’t claim though that I thought these up completely on my own, because the internet is brimming with questions
that others consider beautiful. I read hundreds of them.
What are you/we pretending not to know? Possibilities open up when we stop deceiving ourselves.
Why don’t you/we do the things we know we should be doing? Life isn’t just about figuring out what to do. The real challenge is then doing the things
we know we are called to do.
What don’t you know, that you don’t know you don’t know? It’s often the obstacles that we don’t even see coming that are the biggest challenges in
life. Ask of and listen to the people that have been there and done it already.
What are your values and are you being true to them? Again, I found this exercise on the internet and I tried it. It works. Write down what you believe
are the 3 most important aspects of each of these areas: family, romantic relationships, friends, work, health, sex, spirituality, and yes, politics.
The things you wrote down, I think you’ll see, are your values. Now, ask yourself these two beautiful questions: #1 – Are these values to be doubted
and examined more closely or are they as they are, values worthy of my esteem and honor? #2 - Are our words, our votes, and our actions in the
world true to our most worthy values?
What can I do? What do I do? How do I make a difference? Do my words and actions really matter?
Here is another beautiful question from the internet: What do you do if you come upon a parent verbally abusing a child?
And here is an answer, an answer that extends its meanings to other situations and to other areas of our lives as well:First, cringe. Get it over with.
Then, take a very deep breath. If you truly believe you can help the situation, approach as someone showing sympathy — not as an accuser
or member of the parent police. Empathize with the overstressed parent. Suggest that he or she stop for a moment and take a very deep breath. Without
being a know-it-all but another fallible human being trying to do one’s best, explain respectfully to him or her how pausing and taking a very
deep breath has worked for you in the same kind of situation. And listen to what that other parent has to say.
Mahatma Gandhi once observed, “Almost anything you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”
What are your beautiful questions for this daunting new year, 2017**?
What are my beautiful questions for this new year?
May we all have the courage to ask the truly beautiful questions and
the strength to search in deep places for our own real answers.
**4,715 –Chinese Calendar
**5,777 – Hebrew Calendar
**1,437 – Muslim Calendar