Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Living With The Questions...

Why (adverb) 1. For what? For what reason, cause, or purpose? –American Heritage Dictionary

There was awfully destructive weather in the Plain states last weekend.  More than 100 tornadoes flew through parts of Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Iowa.  Hundreds of thousands huddled in fear. Hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage occurred.  Scores were injured and at least five folks lost their lives. I’ve never lived in “Tornado Alley”, the ominous nickname given to the heart of the United States known for violent weather.  In New England we do have our share of weather challenges: northeasters that churn off the coast, blizzards that can paralyze the region and shut us down cold, and even the rare hurricane that makes land fall and sweeps so much away.

But there’s something about a tornado which shakes me right down to my core, just scares the heck out of me.  There are the high winds which can clock in at more than 150 miles per hour. Or the speed with which these storms develop and then tear apart the land: one can boil up and set down in just minutes.  The closest I ever came to a twister was on one scary March evening in southern Florida. The winds howled and the rains blew as a group of us Habitat for Humanity volunteers hunkered down in a flimsy cabin, hoping and praying that a tornado wouldn’t find us. It was one of the longest nights of my life, made all the more frightening by the reality a twister’s path is finally a mystery.  No one with any surety can pinpoint just where or when or how it will strike.

Unlike slower moving storms which can be tracked, allowing forecasters to warn folks with time to spare, a tornado is that most arbitrary of natural events. One moment we are on the couch watching TV with the kids, the next we’re hunkered down in the bathtub, covered by a mattress, waiting.  It reminds us that for all humans think we know about how the universe works, we finally do not.  For all us mortals suppose we can control life and people and events and maybe even the weather, or learn about anything with just a click of a mouse or a tap on a smartphone, there are times in life when life is finally unpredictable, unfathomable, unknowable.

We can’t know why. We don’t know why.  Sometimes it is tempting to think we may have the answer and even attribute “randomness” to God, or to some divine plan or a heavenly will or fate. Take the remarks of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback who spoke on the Sunday after the tornadoes hit his state.  “There was quite a bit of damage,” Brownback noted, “but God was merciful.”

Considering the Governor was in the midst of a crisis, I understand his need to make such a theological declaration. It is the most natural of human impulses to want to make sense of chaos by seeking some meaning in the random.  To want to see a pattern in the enigmatic, to realize some larger life blueprint, when something comes out of nowhere and rocks our world.  To know why. I get that impulse.

But what if humans instead faced into life trying to accept just one truth? Sometimes we do not know why life unfolds as it does, both in the awful storms and the awe filled moments. Can any of us finally fully parse tender love or awesome beauty or human cruelty or random tragedy?  Asking “Why?” in the face of mystery is not the problem. That’s the most human of responses. Sometimes the most faith filled folks are not the ones with the quick answers but instead are the folks who ask and then humbly admit they do not have an explanation.

On the best of days life ends with a period, a conclusion, and a clear outcome.  “I get it!” we declare. Thank God for those times.  Yet sometimes the day ends with a “Why?”, question marks and the story is still a mystery, no ending in sight.

We can live with the answers. Can we live with the questions too?

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