I remember a few things about a Bible study I attended thirty-five years ago. I sat on a hard, wooden pew in the sanctuary of an inner-city Lutheran church. The minister, a lanky, shaggy-aired, pipe-smoking man who I respected deeply, paced up and down the aisles; his blue eyes rested on each of us as he taught. I can’t recall what verse or chapter we were studying; I don’t remember the points the minister made. What I do remember is raising my hand and asking a question about the text’s meaning, then feeling a churn in my stomach when the reverend’s eyes flashed disapproval. My suggestion that the Bible’s prescriptions might be open to interpretation, might need examination in current times, hung in the silent air.
Definitive answers had long been a comfort to me. I listened, without questioning, for years to the wisdom of my parents, teachers, and ministers. I welcomed the certainty that there was an explanation, a logic, a right answer, for the many parts of life I didn’t understand. Eventually, though, somewhere around the time my Lutheran pastor frowned at my questions, such conviction began to feel stifling rather than reassuring.
This memory returned to me at last month’s spring gathering of Friends as we considered “Ways of Belonging Among Quakers.” At the opening plenary session, four people shared stories of how they came to find a spiritual home among Quakers. Later, in small worship-sharing groups, we considered queries about how we each came to Quakerism and what has kept us here.
Queries. Questions. That’s what has kept me among Friends for over thirty years. Not only is it acceptable to ask questions, it’s expected. We use open-ended questions that invite us to speak from our own experiences and that guide us to explore how God is leading us now, individually and collectively.
So now, I sit in the silence—sometimes on a hard, wooden bench, but usually on a couch in a friend’s living room or on a folding chair at a Quaker gathering, at other times on a rocky beach or deep in a pine forest—and ask questions. And now, it’s the questions that sustain me through life’s mysteries.