The Questions We Ask Ourselves

Wednesday, December 3, 2014 - 5:08 am

The Questions We Ask Ourselves

“Be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart… Try to love the questions themselves… Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given because you would not be able to live them — and the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answers.”
—Rainer Maria Rilke

It took me a long time to learn it, but the questions we ask ourselves are at least as important as the answers we come up with, often more so. And our deepest questions are the ones Rilke writes about — questions that cannot be answered right away but can only be “lived into” over the long haul. These are the questions that shape our lives, so we should choose them with care.

Night is coming on in my part of the world, and I just re-read this beautiful poem by Jeanne Lohmann as a way of reviewing my day. I was happy with my answers to some of her questions, not so much with others.

First thing in the morning, I’ll read the poem again. If I live tomorrow with some of its questions in mind, who knows? Maybe tomorrow night I’ll find that I took at least small steps into better answers…

Questions Before Dark
by Jeanne Lohmann

Day ends, and before sleep
when the sky dies down, consider
your altered state: has this day
changed you? Are the corners
sharper or rounded off? Did you
live with death? Make decisions
that quieted? Find one clear word
that fit? At the sun’s midpoint
did you notice a pitch of absence,
bewilderment that invites
the possible? What did you learn
from things you dropped and picked up
and dropped again? Did you set a straw
parallel to the river, let the flow
carry you downstream?

(Jeanne Lohmann is one of my favorite poets. At age 91, she’s still writing beautifully. Her books can be found on Amazon. I recommend all of her work, not least her 2012 collection, As if Words, and her 2013 collection, Home Ground.)

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is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. His book On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old will be published in June.

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