“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity.”
How is it that I, a minister and known skeptic, am able to a) not run around screaming that the sky is falling and, b) do my job at all? This question perplexes those belonging to religious traditions that offer comfort in the form of certainty.
For some, answers to life’s toughest questions offer reassurance that there is order in this chaotic world and in our sometimes chaotic lives. For others, such as myself, the Great Mystery does not cause panic, but instead eases my mind, reminding me that I don’t have to understand or know everything; that we are all just feeling our way through this life together. No one is an expert. Which, for those who expect a minister to be an expert at all things crucial and who look to clergy to get them through the most difficult days of their lives with reassuring certainties, I would definitely not be the one to call on.
As a chaplain, I once had a patient who was dying. Though he was unable to speak, he would communicate by writing on a legal pad. He told me that he was afraid. I asked him what he was afraid of. He wrote, “I’ve never done it before…”
This patient was deeply Catholic, yet I knew him well enough to understand that his honesty about the unknown was more a request to witness the reality of his anxiety about the unknown, rather than to disabuse him of it. Questions of the hereafter have always struck me as the easiest to enjoy for their ambiguity. It’s almost as if I don’t want any spoilers on the surprise adventure that awaits me after I die.
Lately, however, it seems that so much of our living world, the here and now, is more topsy-turvy than usual. It’s a human spiritual need to want to make sense out of the events of our lives. We not only want, but need life’s unexpected changes to have a deeper meaning. If not a “perfect ending” or poems that rhyme, we would at least appreciate “a clear beginning, middle, and end” every once in a while. It’s much harder to treat daily ambiguities as adventures we should face with excitement, especially as big changes seem to have a way of raining down all at once.
The longer I live, the more I am taught he same lesson, over and over, by wildly different circumstances: the more I expect the unexpected; the more I roll with the punches of life’s tragedies and revel in life’s joys and victories; the more I give in to the reality that I am not as in charge of and cannot plan as much of this life as I would like, the more I can fully experience and even come to enjoy the deliciousness of my journey’s ambiguity.
Giver of Life, help me to approach this moment, this day, this week, month, this year, this life as an adventure whose ending I do not yet know. Allow me to embrace each plot twist without self-blame or despair, but with innocent wonder. May each change be savored and each accompanying emotion be fully felt, that I may fully live.