Life’s Big Questions

“Chew on Life’s Big Questions,” Susan Ryder

Proverbs 18:2, 4, 6-8
A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,
but only in expressing personal opinion.
The words of the mouth are deep waters;
the fountain of wisdom is a gushing stream.
A fool’s lips bring strife,
and a fool’s mouth invites a flogging.
The mouths of fools are their ruin,
and their lips a snare to themselves.
The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels;
they go down into the inner parts of the body.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

This morning we begin a series of summer Reflections considering some of “Life’s Big Questions.” Big questions are different than hard questions. A hard question is – “What is the square root of 3,456,789?” Hard questions rely on expertise, or calculators, while big questions rely on wisdom and experience, and can lead to further conversation. Big questions matter to everyone, and everyone can contribute to answer them. An example of a big question is: “What is the most important lesson you’ve learned?”  Here’s an example of some people from a variety of ages answering that particular big question:




I first became familiar with the concept of Big Questions through my work with the ISU Health, Promotion, and Wellness Spirituality Committee. Among the resources we have utilized in our work, my two favorites are Rainn Wilson’s book and website – “Soul Pancake: Chew on Life’s Big Questions,” which is where our video came from – and a program started by Hillel International called “Ask Big Questions,” which began with a pretty simple idea: to ask a question instead of making a statement. In 2005, Northwestern University’s Hillel leaders put up a banner advertising Yom Kippur services. Rather than just announcing the date and time of services, this banner posed a question: “What will you do better this year?” And then something unexpected happened: The banner sparked interesting conversations among the students, and they, in turn, asked for more questions.

At the heart of these reflective conversations are questions that matter to everyone and everyone can participate in answering. They may be challenging questions, but they are not “hard” questions that require proficiency. Big questions are ones we all have stories about, experience with; questions all of us can relate to. In this series, we will focus on considering how some of these big spiritual questions connect to our lives. We will not be taking positions and debating issues. For our time together, we want to listen and explore to understand and learn, instead of trying to convince or persuade. We want to take the time to consider and articulate thoughtful questions and answers we rarely take the time contemplate. It is clear in this day and age that people are struggling to connect with and listen to each other. So we will offer a chance to shift from debates to conversations that help us connect on a spiritual level. No matter our background or views, we need opportunities to see and hear each other more deeply, and this can be a safe space for us to do just that. When we share our perspectives and listen to others, we will find connections and discover new ideas about ourselves, each other and the world. And if we can do that here, as a congregation, in a safe space, perhaps it will inspire and equip us to be able to do the same with others outside of these walls.

Bob and Donnie and I have come up with a few questions for us to consider this summer. Next week Bob will take up the question of “Is there a God?” and after that, I will tackle “what happens when we die?” Talk about a couple of soft balls! We will also consider:

Do we need religion?

Do miracles happen?

What is truth?

Is there such a thing as karma or fate?

What is the meaning of life?

We realized as we were scheduling the upcoming Sundays that other questions may come up as part of these conversations. Or one Sunday may not be enough time to cover one question. So we will be flexible – we will list the upcoming topics in our weekly e-news, and update them if we end up deciding to take more time with a particular question, or if another question comes up as part of our community reflection that we want to explore further. We are really looking forward to this – and hope you will find it worthwhile.

To get us started practicing our process of considering big questions, I would like to invite each of you to think about the question posed in the video – “What is the most important lesson you’ve learned?” Maybe jot down an answer somewhere on your bulletin. Don’t tell us the story behind it, how you came to learn it – we don’t have time for that this morning. DO write down the most important or meaningful lesson you’ve learned. I’m sure you’ve learned more than one – I know that I have – but for our purposes this morning, please choose the one that is most relevant or important to you NOW. Then in a few moments we’ll hear a few of you share your most important lesson.

I’ll get us started with one that occurred to me – it’s something a friend shared with me years ago – “You don’t have to show up to every fight you are invited to.” It served me well in the past, and is resurrecting for me now in these turbulent times.