Contemplative Life

Why I say “Yes!” to Get in the Boat

“Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

– Rainer Maria Rilke, from Letters to a Young Poet

One theme from the early years of my life is restlessness. I tend toward not being satisfied for long but instead to look for the next thing. But, I also tend to live in fear—fear of risking self, especially where others might see. The resulting tension between restlessness and fear can be almost paralyzing.

Perhaps you know something of it?

Fortunately, I was usually content to address this tension through music, through songs that touched me within that were about lost love, wandering and leaving, such as “Rambling Man,” and “Freeborn Rambling Man,” and “Hobo’s Lullaby”. In my inner person, that fear was also often expressed as anger and rebellion. It is not too surprising then that I also tend to identify with the rebel. So, I accepted Jesus Christ during my teen years at a talk by former gang leader Nicky Cruz (see The Cross and the Switchblade, by David Wilkerson).

Since then and over the years I found the Lord drawing me into a deeper relationship with Him. My outer self seemed to have it together but my inner self still wrestled with this restlessness and fear. I saw friends becoming pastors and thought I could do that. Yet, there was no call that prompted painful and confusing questios:  Why not me? How do I live a Christian life if I’m not a pastor or a religious.

One day I issued God a challenge: “God, if this Jesus stuff is real, then it has to work in the here and now, in the world of business and politics, and not just for a few in the church. Show me that it works.”

Don’t get me wrong. Many things were happening during over those years. The Lord was teaching me to be a husband and a father. He was leading me into the classic spiritual disciplines. He was showing me that silence and prayer are necessary to hear from him. And, I was investigating various Third Orders and other ways to associate with religious orders, seeking to live a religious life in the world and in the midst of family. But, nothing clicked into place for me.

Then one day, during one of our many talks over the years, Bill Haley introduced me to the Rainer Rilke quote about living into the question.

“You are so young, so much before all beginning, and 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. Perhaps you do carry within you the possibility of creating and forming, as an especially blessed and pure way of living; train yourself for that — but take whatever comes, with great trust, and as long as it comes out of your will, out of some need of your innermost self, then take it upon yourself.”

That arrested me.   What does it mean to live into the question? What is the question? I was trying to live as a Christian in … wherever. During the next season, I came to realize that I was asking the wrong question and that God was allowing me to discover this. As I let go of various of my strivings of trying to make something happen, God was replacing them with himself. The spiritual disciplines were becoming about listening to God and obeying in the midst of life. I was learning to live the “with-God life”.

Several years later God impressed on me that, “It is time.” Time for what? I didn’t know, but I had come to know His voice and so I just tried to pay attention. Soon, He lead me to Washington Theological Union and its program in spiritual direction. He then lead me into healing prayer. Meanwhile, Bill moved to the Shenandoah Valley and then Coracle was born.

This past August, in another conversation with Bill on a summer afternoon on a porch deck in an incomplete addition to the Woodshop at Corhaven, we both heard the question: What about a Coracle presence in Northern Virginia?” We both also heard the call, both separately and together, that, yes, this was the moment to live into the question of a Coracle presence in Northern Virginia and that I was being asked to say yes. Was I willing to lay aside restlessness and anchor myself more deeply in Jesus and follow his lead? Was I willing to live through fear and risk myself in a public way? In that moment I recognized that it was the time.  It is time.


So now I am “in the coracle” and have pushed out from the shore and am going where the Spirit blows.

Wade Ballou
Coracle Community Minister for NoVA
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