By: Rev Jackie Hibbard
Certainty. Don’t we all want it? To know the “right” answer, the “right” path, the “right” thing to say, the “right” way to think or believe? We think certainty will make things easier, that there are certain ways to do things. It surely makes things easier … or so we think, or are taught to believe.
You might know that I am a fan of the work of Brene Brown and Franciscan Friar Father Richard Rohr. Maybe I’m a little obsessed with Brene Brown’s work and find it compelling, thought provoking and relatable. And Father Richard’s theology speaks to me and his work is equally as compelling and thought provoking and relatable. I follow both in social media and regular electronic communications as well as in books, articles and videos. I learn so much from both of them and find them to be quite important in my spiritual journey. Imagine my delight when Brene Brown interviewed Father Richard on her podcast Unlocking Us for the last 2 weeks. I was ecstatic, intrigued, and spellbound by their conversation.
Honestly, if I thought we could do it, I would simply play a snippet of the conversation and then have us reflect together about it. The whole conversation is just filled with so much for us to reflect about and dissect and wrestle with. It would be well worth your time and energy to listen to the full podcast interviews, there are 2 of them just over an hour total. You might tell from the bit that Laura read for us that there is much to reflect about. There were some aha moments and some head scratcher comments for me.
Their conversation coupled with the scripture today, I found myself really curious about certainty and when it’s important to me, to our culture, to us. And if God really “requires” us to have certainty all the time.
If I look at Saul in the story from the scripture today, I’m guessing that Saul was really certain about what he believed. He was certain that he was following God and the laws by persecuting those who were following the way of Jesus. He was certain he was right and they were wrong.
When we are certain about something, we are set. There is no room for changing our mind and we believe that whatever it is, it is true.
Whether we look at Saul in the scripture or at the culture war we are in the midst of in this country right now, it's all the same. We are all certain that we are right. There is little room for curiosity, for both-and, for paradox, for conversation. We are entrenched.
The scales in our eyes, in our ears and covering our hearts keep us in separate camps and groups. One is right, the other wrong. One is true, the other false. One is good, the other bad. You get the picture and probably are quite aware of it. Nicole shared about that last week in her sermon.
I think I have always struggled with the notion of certainty. When I was going through the ordination process, I kept hitting this wall as I worked on my ordination paper. It literally took me years to write the thing, Robb will confirm that since he was the chair of my in-discernment committee when we were both at Park Hill.
I had this belief that I had to know everything, to be certain and un-questioning about my faith, to know “the truth”, and what God was calling me to be and do. And it paralyzed me. Because I wasn’t certain, I didn’t have all the answers and I had some belief that everyone else did and that it was required of me. That belief that I had to be certain about everything kept me stuck for a long time. Sometimes it still does.
But at some point, I surrendered to the mystery of being called to ministry and trusted that I was really being called. I allowed myself to be vulnerable, as both Father Richard and Brene Brown tell us is an essential part of life and of faith. I wrote from my heart, rather than write what I thought other people in authority wanted to hear or what I thought they thought was “right.” I let my authentic voice at that moment speak. And the paper was done and submitted shortly thereafter, without a lot of certainty, but with heart and authenticity and filled with faith in an all-loving God.
All those years of struggle … clinging to some belief that there is a “right” way to present that paper in order to be accepted. Maybe you think I wasted a lot of time and energy & sometimes I think that too. And really I have come to accept it as part of my journey, a process I needed to go through. Most of the time, I don’t make it wrong or bad.
Perhaps you know this quote by Rainer Maria Rilke, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you 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 answer.”
Live the questions. Be patient with what is unsolved. Love the questions. Be curious. Be open to learning new things. Explore. Reflect. Go deep. Go shallow. Discover. Discard. Rest. Be ready to say, “I have learned something new” and let old things fall away. Let the mystery be.
All of this is what it means to have faith in a God who loves us deeply. All of this is what it means to be human.
Maybe, like Saul, we need to hear the call of Jesus, sit with the mystery, embrace the journey, accept that we might not be right all the time, and let the scales fall from our eyes. Maybe that is what faith is rather than having answers at our fingertips, wrapped up in a bow, making each of us right and others wrong. Maybe certainty isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.
Let the scales fall, let your heart, mind, eyes and ears open and may you cultivate curiosity next time you encounter someone or an idea you don’t agree with or understand. I wonder what might happen? May you keep exploring and may your faith thrive and grow as you learn new things and continue on the journey you are on.