Friday, September 17, 2010

Questions and Answers

Someone asked me yesterday whether I was going to go and see the Pope. Perhaps if I lived in Edinburgh or Glasgow, or London or Birmingham – those places where he is planning to visit, I might have gone to see him. I suppose there is a sense of it being a historic occasion – coming not in a pastoral role, but as head of state, but as regards my faith, seeing him or not seeing him is not that relevant. Having said that, I watched the BBC’s coverage of the gathering in Glasgow, listening to what he said in his address to the crowd. Not speaking Latin, he lost my attention when it came to conducting mass. I could appreciate that for the tens or hundreds of thousands of Roman Catholic Christians, his presence among them was special.

It should not have come as a surprise last night that I dreamt about meeting the Pope. In my dream there was an absence of body guards and there was no list of the highly privileged who could get near to him. He was holding a surgery on spiritual matters, just as a politician would hold a surgery on political matters and it took place in the basement of my local village church. People were encouraged to come and ask questions.

I remember standing in the queue and being aware that I didn’t have a question I wanted to ask. I am not even sure why I was there – just curiosity I suppose, much like you might visit an interesting picture in an art gallery.

Eventually it got to my time. What impressed me about him were his eyes. They were very blue, very clear and bright and full of tenderness. There was an “ask-me-any-question-you-like” quality about them. I felt ashamed that there wasn’t really any burning question I needed to ask – so I made one up. I talked about my father who had recently had a heart attack and how he had come to a full stop in his life. All the things he used to do, like gardening and playing skittles in the pub, he had stopped doing because he was afraid he would bring on another attack. My question was about what I could do to help him regain his courage. The incident was a real one – twenty years ago and I’m not sure then that I thought about how I could help.

I can’t remember what the Pope said. What I remember thinking was “So, you are not infallible after all otherwise you would have known I made up the question and my dad died years ago.”

I don’t really need to look very far to work out why I was asking questions in my dream to a religious authority figure. We have a visitor with our church this weekend. He is our apostle or overseer, responsible for the well being of our church family. We don’t seem him very often as he doesn’t live close by. Sometimes we have the opportunity to deal with what you might class as household issues – practical things about the church. Other times he will share with us what is happening with the other churches he oversees.

There will be a chance to ask him questions. Some friends and I were talking about questions we might like to ask. I am sure you are familiar with the request for any questions being followed by a pin-dropping silence.

I have questions – not so much questions in plural but just one in singular. The trouble is that my question has some strong emotions attached, and I hate getting emotional. Do I really want to weep into a paper tissue as I ask it? Is the answer really that important? Answer “No” to the first and “Yes” to the second.

Why do some of us find it hard to ask questions? Is it that we know everything we need to know right now? Is it that we don’t really want to know what we don’t know? Maybe we feel it’s something we should know and don’t like to reveal our ignorance. Maybe we care too much about what other people might think of us so we stay silent. Or maybe it’s the answer itself that frightens us. I’m swithering between the last two.

I can, of course, live quite well without knowing the answer – but I am sure that I will live a lot better if I did know.

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