The first step to God is always a question. It is always a question that opens the door; one thinks of the many questions in the Gospels: “Where do you live?” “How can a person be born twice?” “If the rich cannot be saved, then who can be saved?” “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
Sometimes the questions are implied, buried in anguish. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” “Unless I put my hand in his wounds, I will not believe.” “Master, master, we are perishing…” (Luke 8:24).
Some of the questions come from women and men outside the culture of Jesus: “How is that you a Jew speak to me a Samaritan?” And some came from people who had known him all his life: “Isn’t this the son of Joseph the carpenter?”
And then of course, there are our own personal questions about God. Our early primary questions often don’t seem to be about God at all. I remember very clearly as a young boy, maybe 11 or 12 years old, walking along past Mrs. Anderson’s cherry trees. We used to raid her trees when the plump, dark red fruit was in season. I walked past her trees pretty well every weekday from my first day in school at age five to my last day in high school. One day, while walking past her small orchard, out of nowhere came the questions: Who am I? What is a human? What does it mean to be human?
I also remember, about the same time of life, having a fascination with the past. Like many young folks I became interested in the ancient past, ancient animals, ancient wars—the digging around for things! I learned and loved the words “archeology,” “ancient history.” The words seemed so exotic! My life changed when I learned the word “archaeopteryx”—meaning “ancient wing”—the oldest known bird with claws in its wings, part lizard, part bird! At that stage of growing up everything began with arche (pronounced ar-kay), having to do with “the beginning,” whatever was ancient.
I asked myself: “Where in history would I like to go?” I made a list of three moments I would like to visit from the past. The only moment I can remember listing is the crucifixion of Jesus. When I remembered this years later, I was quite surprised…maybe even shocked. I had not been baptized and I had never been to church. Where did this come from? What was I hoping to see, to learn?
Years later, in seminary, I remember the deep, physical thrill and abiding delight in reading the first words of the Gospel of John in Greek: “In the beginning…” and there it was: arche, “the beginning”!
All of the questions we have of our existence, our meaning, our purpose arise from en arche (“from the beginning”)—the Living and Holy Being of God!
God is the Beginning of our questions, the beginning of your hunger to be loved, to be known, to be heard. God has been with you from the Deep Beginning of All Things. God has been with you since before your childhood, all through your childhood, all through your maturation, all through your journey of life, no matter how dark or bright, right up to this moment, as you read these words.
Maybe, as a child I needed to know where, in the ancient history of our ancient world, love could be seen. Maybe that’s why the figure of a solitary man on a cross arose, however obliquely, from the depths of my heart, mind and soul.
These many long years after childhood questions, I have come to believe that the answer to the question, “Who am I?” cannot be answered without hearing the question that is put to us all from that solitary man on a cross: “Who do you say I am?”
And yes, the archaeopteryx remains a wonder.