Pondering your questions: Buber and Rilke on being "in-between"...

Pondering your questions: Buber and Rilke on being "in-between"...

Coming back from our winter solitude retreat last weekend we are still filled with the good spirit that flows when people spend time with each other in solitude. It reminds me of a beautiful line I learned back in my philosophy studies, reading Martin Buber's brief but challenging book on true encounter. When we meet each other in a climate where the other turns from a mere object of my interest into a Thou, we help  a new space open up "in-between" us, Buber states: "The extended lines of I and Thou meet in the "eternal Thou."

(c) A. Furchert

(c) A. Furchert

This in-between space is filled with what lies hidden from our all-too-often objectivised thinking. It also hides itself from mere scientific attempts to describe and explain it. Still, the sacred space which opens up in true encounter makes a crucial part of our reality we long for in our day to day lives.

Sharing winter solitude is a way to ponder such in-between spaces and to share what can be said in words and what lies beyond them. At our retreat we again graciously experienced how much the monastic place helped us in finding that sacred space of true encounter and how the poetry of Rilke, Kierkegaard, Benedict, and Hildegard sustained us and invited us within.

Taking time for winter solitude, contemplating the season of life each of us faces in different ways, gives us a way to look back on our life and to collect ourselves, as does nature in winter, in anticipation of new life to come. Thus our in-between spaces, when we gather at a threshold of life, can turn into a sacred place, too, where one can meet oneself in new ways, pondering one's open questions, and turn them into friends, or guests, who might "clear us out for some new delight".  (see our post on Rumi's guesthouse)

When I once was kindly invited to teach some philosophy of religion classes to undergraduate students, there were some students who wrote me after the class. I was glad to hear the class was received as rich and interesting and challenging I had hoped for. But mostly I was touched by a repeated question: what was the beautiful quote you gave us at the very end of the class?  

I had ended my class, in which we puzzled about the structure and grounding of the human self, with a phrase by Rainer Maria Rilke. Not because I had planned to do so, or had a good reason, but because the line came to my heart while looking into the many young partly curious and partly confused faces: "Do not struggle too hard with what you have not understood yet," I invited the students, "but do hold on to your questions, ponder them within your heart like dear friends or locked rooms. And do trust that, someday, somewhere on the way, you will grow, even without noticing, into their answer."

Indeed I was pleased that it was that very line that students would come back to later. It also reminded me that you can prepare a class or a retreat or a talk as thoroughly as you wish and still, perhaps the most crucial of all encounters will happen unplanned but "in-between."

So after our last invitation to you to spend some winter solitude with Rilke's letter to  a young poet I want to share another Rilke quote with you. It invites us to cherish the questions we might have stumbled upon in-between:

“Have patience, with everything unresolved in your heart and 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, live your way into the answer.”                  
---- Rainer Maria Rilke (Letters to a young poet, #4)


Suggested Readings


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Gathering within...