When I started training to become a spiritual director, I was relieved to learn very quickly that our job isn’t about giving directions, fixing problems, or doling out wisdom like some sort of Jesus Yoda.
Do you know what spiritual directors do? We ask questions. Lots of them. We listen, we reflect, we follow the connective threads, and we trust that the Holy Spirit is already doing a deep and secret work in a person’s soul. All we need is to bear witness and offer support.
Reading Lore Ferguson Wilbert’s new book, A Curious Faith, reminds me of spending a few hours with a good spiritual director. It’s a thoughtful book from a compassionate writer, and in a cultural moment marked by black-and-white polarization in so many areas of life, it’s exactly the kind of book we need.
“Try to love the questions themselves.” — Rainer Maria Rilke
If the words of another author could sum up A Curious Faith, it would be this one from Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet: “Be patient with all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves… Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” In fact, Wilbert uses it to open the book, sharing how these words altered her whole perspective on life.
“The Bible is a permission slip for those with questions,” she writes, and in thirty-two brief chapters, she explores the many questions woven throughout Scripture. Questions like God asking Adam and Eve, “Who told you that?” Or Habbakkuk lamenting, “Why do you make me look at injustice?” Or the many questions from Jesus himself: “Do you want to be well?” or “Who do you say I am?” or “Do you love me?”
If you read A Curious Faith from cover to cover, you’ll see a chosen Biblical trajectory to Wilbert’s questions addressing subjects from the Garden of Eden to the resurrected Christ. At the same time, each short chapter can be read as a meditation on its own. You can easily savor each question, prayerfully turning it over, examining it against your own life, and exploring it through reflection and journaling. And while she occasionally draws stories from her own life, Wilbert’s writerly gift is how she keeps her attention on the reader and always kindly directs them back to Jesus.
Wilbert’s writerly gift is how she keeps her attention on the reader and always kindly directs them back to Jesus.Jen Rose Yokel
Maybe you aren’t in a shaky place. Maybe you feel a little bit of resistance to a book full of questions, wondering if this is another “deconstructionist” who is sure to send readers on a slippery slope toward relativism. If that’s in the back of your mind, rest assured that every word is deeply rooted in faithfulness and hard-fought wisdom. Throughout the book, Wilbert reflects on an upbringing that was more about “behavior modification” than spiritual formation, and she recalls a twisting path of doubting, moving, longing, and changing over the years. And looking back, she sees how the questions didn’t drive her from God. On the contrary, “Living the questions led me not to an unstable expanse, as I’d been afraid it would. Instead, it led me to more surety and stability than I’d ever had before.”
“Before your face questions die away.” — C. S. Lewis
This is another area where this book feels like the work of spiritual direction. Wilbert doesn’t set out to answer all of these questions. She doesn’t offer a lot of self-revealing stories with neat morals, and freely admits when she’s in the middle of uncertainty. One thing Wilbert knows for sure, however, is the source of answers — and over and over, she points her readers right back to the God who holds them.
One of Wilbert’s greatest strengths as a writer is that she trusts the reader enough to give them room to listen to the Holy Spirit’s work. She guides readers toward discerning the voice of God. She points back to God’s character, over and over, and highlights not just what Jesus does, but how he does it. She allows the stories in Scripture to enter into conversation with her own life and makes room for us to imagine the inner lives of people like Moses and Peter and Mary Magdalene when she looks at how God answers (or doesn’t answer) their questions.
Toward the end of the book, in a beautiful chapter called “The Unasked Questions,” Wilbert acknowledges that a curious faith is a risky one. “Christians want to be resurrection people, but we can’t have resurrection without death first. And for some of us, this book of questions will lead us to a kind of death first. A kind of waiting period during which no one else is sure we’ll come through, including ourselves… [but] Shadows exist because something real exists to cast them. Darkness exists because light exists. And questions exist because answers do too.”
Or to borrow a line from Lewis’ Til We Have Faces: “I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away.”
Whether you are in a place of rock-solid certainty or feel the foundations of your faith crumbling beneath you, this book can be a gentle guide toward a deeper, more beautiful curiosity. Perhaps it can even be one more step toward living your way into the answers you seek.
Jen Rose Yokel is a poet, freelance writer, and spiritual director. Her words have appeared at She Reads Truth, CCM Magazine, and other publications, and she released her first poetry collection Ruins & Kingdoms in 2015. Originally from Central Florida, she now makes her home in Fall River, Massachusetts with her husband Chris, where you can find her enjoying used bookstores and good coffee.