Joan Chittister: Questions that shape our lives

Received this today (8/4/14) in the Vision and Viewpoint e-newsletter from Benetvision. You can find more Ideas in Passing from Joan Chittister here. Joan will give you much to think about. What are the questions that have shaped, are shaping, your life?

Quote . . .The ability—the commitment—to question, to examine, every aspect of the human journey is the only form of fidelity worth the price of admission to this sojourn called life. Otherwise, no sector of the social anatomy to which we swear emotional allegiance can trust us to serve it well. It is the questions we ask that move us from stage to stage of our growing, that take us from level to level of our thoughts, however simple the questions may seem. I have just realized, in fact, how boring my own questions have been over the years: Do non-Catholics go to heaven? Is sin the center of life? Or to put it another way, What is a “good” life? Does what we give up in life make for more holiness than what we do? Is religious life incarnational or transcendent? Don’t we really need to be violent sometimes? What is a woman? Can a woman be Catholic? (No mention, you notice, of birth control, which also had a lot to do with radicalizing me, or divorce, which I have always believed in, even when it was a sin, and “the role of women in the home” which I knew was wrong by the time I was five.) And yet, without those questions there was no coming beyond the naive simplicity of all the early answers to them: Only Catholics go to heaven. Sins are the things against the law, and the purpose of life is to avoid them. Good things are bad for you. Or—the second version—really good people give up good things. Religious life requires separation from “the world.” The Crusades and Vietnam were noble ventures fought to make the world safe for Christianity. Woman is man’s helpmate. The reason women can’t minister to the people of God sacramentally is because God wants it that way.

We each have our own personal set of questions. For those of us who lived the greater part of the twentieth century—during the wars, before and after Vatican II, in the midst of the second wave of the woman’s movement—maybe the questions I find so mundane today were common ones. Maybe they were quite different from the ones asked by the people around me. But whatever the ilk of them, the process of writing them out is a humbling experience. It exposes the level of inquiry with which a life has been consumed. It also unmasks the questions behind the questions that agitate the very pilings of the world around me.

At the same time, it is a worthwhile excursion into the soul to look at the questions that have shaped our lives and ask what it was about them that intrigued us in the first place, that changed us as we dealt with them, that brought me, as a result of them, to be the person that I am today. After all, it is only in the light of our past that we understand the present with which we grapple as well the future toward which we strive.

–from Joan Chittister: Essential Writings, selected by Mary Lou Kownacki and Mary Hembrow Snyder (Orbis).

Author: Daniel Rondeau

I am a husband and father and an Episcopal Priest (now retired) in the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego.

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