Wednesday Quotes
Asking for Direction in Baffling Times
February 24, 2016

Kneeling Man

“All Italians, all the Oenotrian land,
Resorted to this place in baffling times,
Asking direction; here a priest brought gifts…”
Virgil, The Aeneid

What do I do now? I often stand in the paradoxical position of knowing that I alone am responsible for the decision I have to make even while I don’t have clarity on what I should do.

This is a formula for anguish. I will be responsible for the judgment I make–for we are responsible for what we knowingly or voluntarily do; but my knowledge is clearly insufficient for making a judgment with confidence. Often in trying to discern how to act, in our family, in our profession, or towards our friends, we experience such anguish.

Is there a solution? Virgil relates an approach that is surely as old as humanity itself. All Italians, he tells us, would resort to an oracle–a mouthpiece of the divine–seeking counsel in baffling times. They would go to sleep in the sacred woods, awaiting an answer in their slumber.

Baffling times. There are a few things that so unnerve a man. To whom do I turn? This decision must be mine, but I need help, insight beyond my reach. Surely one avenue is to turn to friends, or mentors. Such often can provide the needed angle of insight. As Aristotle says, what I can do with the help of a friend, I can do.

But sometimes that is simply not enough. We sense that need more; we need insight and assistance from a completely different horizon. It’s as though certain of our predicaments are custom designed to bring us to this realization.

Is there someone who sees things on a completely different level, with an all-encompassing vision? If so, we need to learn to ask. Interestingly, for the Greeks and Romans, the oracular responses were still often enigmatic, not making clear just what to do, or how to do it. But direction would come to them, even as they slumbered.

Their decisions were still theirs to make; nothing alters that. Yet people, especially those in authority, learned to ask. Perhaps learning to ask for direction is the hidden, and even the intended fruit of baffling times.

Virgil (70-19 B.C.) is the great Roman poet, author of The Aeneid and The Georgics. In the Divine Comedy he appears as Dante’s guide through hell and purgatory.

Image credit: Speaking the Truth in Love blog.

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  1. Words of someone raising a teenager. Prayer trumps oracles!

  2. There is a whole different set of problems involved with being able to really listen and absorb what you hear. It’s naturally easier to hear what you want to hear, but it’s a dangerous habit.

  3. Since I became Eastern Orthodox a little more than two years ago, I have been extremely grateful for our sacrament, confession. While confession is not the same thing as asking for direction, I have found that more often than not, it helps give at least some clarity, particularly when my spiritual father and priest offers counsel. In my case, my priest virtually never gives as an answer “do this” or “don’t do that” though, as he very much recognizes the individual’s ability to and likely even responsibility to make decisions, and loves us regardless. I usually at least find myself feeling more encouraged about my ability to make a decision and do my best to make the best of it, particularly where others are concerned. A regular confession habit helps me, I think, even when hard decisions may surprise me.

    There is also, prayer, though I think of this as a different sort of asking for help. I think of that more like trying to make myself more ready to accept help in whatever form that may come, be it trial or by a “period of grace.”

    You said, “…Perhaps learning to ask for direction is the hidden, and even the intended fruit of baffling times.” I really like that thought as it makes me think about all of the social and especially communal benefit of being interdependent on one another, as well as the humility and likely surrendering of prideful desire to “stand strong” alone that asking for help requires.

    Thanks again for another thought provoking post!

    1. And Aaron, thanks again for another very thoughtful comment!