The Only Answer I Know
"...You are given the questions of others
as if they were answers
to all you ask. Yes, perhaps
this gift is your answer."
—from "A Gift" by Denise Levertov
In my town, the annual harvest fair is a big event. All the groups in town have booths. The Boy Scouts make root beer; the Women's Club offers homemade pies, and the Rotary gives out hotdogs for a donation for the food pantry. My church sells whoopie pies: you can mix and match your choice of flavors for filling and cake (I know, right?). The dance school and karate students perform, and there’s a band. It’s a rite of passage when kids are old enough to walk around by themselves and collect swag and candy.
Last year I sat at our booth next to a sign saying, “The Minister is In. Profound Questions Answered, 25 cents.” (I borrowed the idea from Lucy’s “The Doctor Is In” booth from the Peanuts.) Some of the questions were from people wanting to know their purpose or the meaning of their life, which is not something you can really answer for someone else. I had to extemporize, saying there may be multiple purposes to our lives, or that we can’t know the full meaning of our lives because we don’t always know how our lives touch other people.
A few people asked me to predict the future in ways that were surprising and tender. They wanted to know if the heart surgery would go okay or the cancer would return or their husband would recover from his stroke. I prefaced these answers with the disclosure, in the name of professional honesty, that I am not psychic but I also said in every case, “I absolutely believe it is going to be fine, more than fine.”
I can’t know this for sure, of course, but what I do know for sure is that hope matters. One of the best things we can do is to hold hope for someone when that person cannot hold it for themselves. Not the careless, casual hope of “I hope things go well for you,” but a sturdier hope, a hope which says, “I believe in you even though you might not believe in yourself right now.” A hope which says, “I see you as whole and brave as hell, even though you feel broken and afraid.”
It is, I realize, an act of great trust to sit down with the local minister and ask a true question— a question of the heart—because the questions are also our fears, our worries, our deepest longings. I will hold the questions as carefully as I can, like the gifts they are, and offer hope as the only answer I know.
God of all who long for answers in this time of great fear and uncertainty, help us to hold the questions with tenderness and to offer one another a sturdy, faithful hope.