It seems that the Beatles did sing about ‘Please!’, my bad, but there is a saying that after they’d sang about love they then broke up! You could say the Beatles understood something of how the next phase of our journey, Perplexity, looks and feels like. Like the other phases this phase is marked by three different words and the first is ‘When?’
The word ‘When?’ describes our crying out to God when he seems to be far away. It describes the time when what we believe seems to make no sense at all. It is when we thirst and thirst and thirst, as if in a dry and dusty place, with no sense of relief or end. ‘When?’ is the cry of the desert, of living alone and isolated in lockdown, of existing when plunged into grief, of futility when made redundant, of despair when faith and belief seem to be merely fantasy and make believe.
The word ‘When?’ is the heart of prayer called aspiration. The prayer of aspiration is an intense, persistent desire to receive something you don’t yet have, or to become something you are not yet. It is a breathless, gasping longing, a life-and-death thirst, a deep and passionate – even desperate – desire to survive and thrive as a person of faith.
Mixed into this prayer of aspiration in ‘When?’ are other prayers; those of exasperation and desperation when we hope against hope that an answer will soon come, even though the heavens seem to be made of brass.
This language of ‘When?’ is language you find in the Psalms, such as Psalm 42. Here the Psalmist contrasts between what has been previously known and what is known now, and it is this contrast which hurts and hurts and hurts so. This is why we cry ‘When?’; of when will it stop; of when will there be relief. Yet ‘When?’ dares to hope. ‘When?’ dares to survive. ‘When?’ dares to put one foot in front of the other. ‘When?’ dares to refuse to let go but to persevere instead.
The difficult work of Perplexity is its asking us hard heart- and soul-searching questions, questions we must not run away from. These are questions that mark the purifying of faith. They mark the testing of hope. They mark the refining of love.
‘When?’ isn’t if because we all know such times do happen in our lives and when they do, may we all have the courage to journey well through them.