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~ Why and How? ~

    Why is there so much suffering? How can God allow it? Why does God love me so unconditionally? How can God possibly love me? Why do I feel this way? How can I feel this way? Why is this true? How can this be true?

    The words a person uses reflects his or her orientation to life. "Why" and "how" words are strong indicators of oneís sense of place in the world.

    Children are famous for their why questions. "It isnít right to lie." "Why?" "Because it hurts people." "Why?" "Because." "Because why?" "Just because." "Why?" Exasperation now sets in. Adults should know this is the time for a story. Stories and our mythologies respond magnificently to why questions. The Master Teacher, Jesus, told many stories. Calling them parables seem to reserve them mainly for the sages and philosophers. All of us, however, need to speak frequently in parables. Embedded in them are the answers to the why questions.

    The how questions reflect technology. Notice the older childrenís shift as they become more educated in a technological world. They ask fewer why questions and many more how questions. The magic of the why, and the tales and stories with wisdom in response to it, wane. The how questions invite a more technical response. Such responses, in turn, generate arguments and dissension. One isnít prone to argue with a story teller, especially when the stories penetrate the analytical brain and find their resting place in the heart.

    Why questions are receptive. When one asks, "Why is there so much suffering?", you can hear an acceptance of its reality. However, the how version, "How can (or does) God allow this?", presents an aggressive stance. The questioner is more interested in doing battle than in acquiring wisdom. "How can you do that?" or "How can you feel that way?" is a line of demarcation and the questioner invites a crossing of that line, armed and ready to wage war with the answers offered, not truly interested in learning or understanding. "How can you be so ignorant?"

    At this point some readers may think, "How questions are vital. Answering them results in progress and accomplishment." How true. "How can I improve my communication skills?", for example, is a valid technical question that has merits. "How am I to live the Gospel daily?" is also valid and vital. Yet these two questions invite different kinds of responses. How to communicate more effectively or how to fix a leaky faucet merits a technical response. They are also questions without any agenda other than to accomplish a goal.

    The answer to "how to live the Gospel," however, cannot be outlined in a technical manual. Jesus said, "Learn from Me, for I am meek [humble] and gentle." Such ways are learned through seeing living stories and ultimately participating in those living stories oneself. By such participation we become living stories to others and an answer to their how questions. However, I should know better than to give such a technical response. Instead, let me tell you a story...

    A woman with a very sick child approached her pastor for help. "The doctors did what they could and she isnít getting any better," she explained. "I know another mother whose child had an incurable disease," replied the pastor. "She prayed early in the morning for several hours and again late each night. She also found herself having deep solidarity with others who shared similar anguish. She tended to the needs of the others with the same love and compassion with which she cared for her own daughter. After some time, to her doctorsí surprise, her childís illness went into remission. That mother was so grateful for her childís recovery that she keeps on doing her prayer vigils and work of caring for the others to this day."

    The distraught mother replied excitedly, "Then Iíll do the same thing!" To which the pastor replied, "That, unfortunately, wonít work. You see, that mother didnít know how this story would end, but she kept living it anyway."

    The prophet Jeremiah exclaimed to God, "When I found your words, I devoured them; they became my joy and the happiness of my heart..." (15:16). Jeremiah ate the words of God like a starving man, with no why or how filters. Proverbs 3:5 declares, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding." "How" is oriented to using our own understanding. "Why" is the posture that invites wisdom from above and a receptivity to trust.

    How can we achieve such detachment from our questioning and challenges to what is? We guard what we believe is ours from those we see as thieves of our own righteous and moral standings. Why value such detachment? Well, that calls for one more story...

    An elderly man chose to spend the rest of his days living simply and prayerfully in a modest home isolated in a magnificent forest. He returned home one wondrously beautiful night from a long walk along moon lit trails. He found his beloved home had been robbed of his few possessions...sentimental jewelry, family silverware and some cash he left on the kitchen counter. The man felt no indignation or anger, but rather a compassion for the poverty of the thief. "Poor thief," he thought. "If only I could have been here to give him this marvelous moon and its gentle and beautiful light!"

    There is more wisdom to be learned in asking, "Why did the thief leave the marvelous moon behind?" than in "How could the thief leave the marvelous moon behind?" The how question invites some dry explanation. The why question invites another story. And thatís another Weekly Reflection.

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services

Weekly Reflections © June 21, 2003
Responses are welcome at: Reflections@prayergear.com

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