My purpose in life is to ask questions.
I was with some friends at our Table group recently, considering a passage from John’s gospel. After we’d made a number of observations about the passage, I said to the group, “So, what questions does this passage ask of you?”
At first, they continued to make observations. So, I pressed, “Those are good thoughts, good answers, but what I want is questions. If God is speaking to you from his Word, what questions is he asking you?”
And then they began. First, a hesitant question. Then bolder and more penetrating questions, painfully honest questions, questions that undermine the easier, more settled parts of everyday life. It was wonderful.
All of the insightful observations that had been made in the first part of our conversation were great and had their place. But it was only a starting place. It was part of listening, paying attention. But getting to the questions, that is the place of truly hearing and engaging with what is being said. Questions move us from being merely outside observers to being engaged deeply, with our whole person.
Internalizing questions is essential to moving from a surface-to-surface interaction to a person-to-person interaction. When you and I ask questions of each other, we move from being acquaintances to being friends. When I hear God asking me questions through the Scriptures (or friends or dreams or sermons or songs or whatever), it’s then that I enter the realm of true prayer.
Although I was acquainted with the many questions in the Psalms and on the lips of Jesus, it was Canadian author Douglas Coupland who taught me the vocation of questioning. At the end of his bizarrely wonderful novel Girlfriend in a Coma, Coupland writes:
Ask questions, no, screech questions out loud — while kneeling in front of the electric doors at Safeway, demanding other citizens ask questions along with you — while chewing up old textbooks and spitting the words onto downtown sidewalks — outside the Planet Hollywood, outside the stock exchange, and outside the Gap.
Grind questions onto the glass on photocopiers. Scrape challenges onto old auto parts and throw them off of bridges so that future people digging in the mud will question the world, too. Carve eyeballs into tire treads and onto shoe leathers so that your every trails speaks of thinking and questioning and awareness. Design molecules that crystallize into question marks. Make bar codes print out fables, no prices. You can’t even throw away a piece of litter unless it has a question stamped on it — a demand for people to reach a finer place.
He continues on, but I’ll leave it to you to search out the book and read till you get to the part I quoted and beyond.
Questioning is an art.
We can all do it and do ask them, having learned the five Ws and the H (who, where, what, when, why, and how) when we were kids. But we’re not practiced in asking more than inch-deep questions. It’s only by spending time with better questioners and by persisting in our own question-asking, not being satisfied with our initial questions, that we get to the most important questions.
Yes, almost any question is a good starting point. Any question can get inside and bounce around in us. But the more practiced we are at this, the more disturbing and yet satisfying the results will be.