The Questions That Haunt Me

Dangriga, Belize, before sunrise

by Jen Owens

Questions follow me. Sometimes they’re like little children, calling after their parents as they go about their days, asking them to explain why things happen the way they do. Other times they’re like a knowledgeable teacher who uses the Socratic method to bring me to a conclusion that leads me to further questions of my own. I find God in these questions. They help me make sense of my life, of my faith, of the world around me, and I am ever grateful for them.

But lately, the questions that pursue me are more like spectres, like persistent ghosts who need to resolve something from their former lives, and they haunt my waking hours and my resting ones alike. I can only function this way for so long before I start to feel like the start of the new day is just a continuation of the restless night before. These questions, the ones that haunt me, take a while to find the words that give them shape. Sometimes they feel like an absence, like an emptiness begging to be filled.

I started out the Easter season with a clear question, focused and singular. What does it mean to be a people of resurrection? In reflecting on that question—in my studies, in conversations with family and friends, in public and private acts of prayer—again I find myself haunted. This time was different, though. The urgency that accompanied my Lenten prayer has returned, but it is so all-encompassing that I don’t feel like I can escape it.

What I’m also starting to realize is that I don’t really want to. What I’m learning is that there is a deep freedom in raising these questions, to myself, to those I love, to God. And when I really enter into it, I realize that this questioning is not only part of who I am, but it’s also part of how I’m Catholic. It’s part of what connects me not only to the Scripture and Tradition that shape who we are as a community, but it’s also part of what connects me to the myriad of ways that others forge their identities in the long shadow that Scripture and Tradition cast.

I find myself in the example of Peter in today’s Gospel. The beloved disciple, John, recognizes Jesus on the water, and Peter is beside himself with excitement, immediately diving into the water to be closer to the risen Christ. Later, on the beach, after they have broken bread together, Jesus calls Peter by name, asking if Peter loves him. When Peter answers that he does, three times over, perhaps mirroring his earlier denials of Jesus, Jesus gives him three different instructions in return.

In his response, Jesus teaches us something about love—that it isn’t enough to have it in our lives, to experience it ourselves. Like the questions that haunt us, love needs to be engaged, to be shared if it is to have life, to thrive. With this love, like our questions, comes a sense of responsibility—to follow the questions to their conclusions, to the new questions, to follow that love wherever it leads us. Even if it means leaving. Even if it means going where we do not want to go, with tear-stained cheeks, with chests racked with sobs, with shoulders hung low.

As I write this, birds chirp a sweet evening song outside my window. Maybe the psalmist is right. Maybe joy does come with the dawn. But not before the weeping of the night has ended. I’ve wiped away too many tears, lost too much sleep in recent weeks for these questions that haunt me not to take shape. If not those who are charged with the care of the faithful, who will comfort the ones who were crucified by unconscienable abuse? Who will feed these lambs, tend these sheep? Who will stand with them, with those who love them, with those who have wrung their hands with worry over their safety, over their recovery, over their future? Are you listening, you who were ordained to care for this flock? Can you hear them? Can you hear those who pray with them and for them? Will you join in this prayer of lament? Will you listen to the pain of those who have survived? Will you atone for their suffering? Will you humble yourselves to enter the tomb? Will you listen to the testimony of the women who witnessed the resurrection? Can we rise again?

Jen Owens is a first-year doctoral student in systematic theology at the Graduate Theological Union. She is also a member of St. Augustine Parish in Oakland, CA.


3 Responses

  1. This is an off the chart wonderful blog.

    Thank you.

  2. By the way, I’m listing your blog on my blog. Not that that’s an honor or anything, but for the record I don’t list very many other blogs.

  3. It is community that carries the value that is in the church. Perhaps the community can heal the church. The power of the church community has a profound impact in our world. Sadly, as you noted, it is not always good.

    You wrote”.. forge their identities in the long shadow that Scripture and Tradition cast”. In the darkness of this shadow light is absent. Until we have the courage to step out of the shadow we are in the dark. God is not defined or contained by scripture or tradition.

    When we place our confidence directly in God, making that confidence our only diplomat, the shadows we encounter are our own. They are not imposed on us and we have a greater likelihood of finding our way. Of seeing the light.

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