Monastic Strategies: Appreciating Questions as Much as Answers

Monastic Strategies: Appreciating Questions as Much as Answers June 6, 2019

Appreciating Questions as Much as Answers

Many of us become interested in spiritual life because we are looking for answers.

We live in a world where appreciating questions can be a challenge. It is easy for us to assume life is about finding answers to our questions.

Most of us do not really appreciate having questions. Questions often make us feel nervous and a little uncomfortable. We do not want to have questions, what we really want are the answers to our questions.

Some of us value certainty and knowing much more than we value asking questions. Our questions are steps we take toward finding answers.

We search for answers particularly when we talk about spiritual life. Many of us want to know what specific things mean. We do not want an estimate or a guess about what they mean, but to know what they actually mean.

Our questions are about finding answers we trust.

It is easy for us to look at spiritual life like something out of a mystery novel or a fantasy movie. We have grown accustomed to characters gathering pieces and putting them together to solve a puzzle.

Some of us approach spiritual life as a way to fit all the pieces together so we can earn new life.

My experience of spiritual life has taught me a different way to understand spiritual life.

I do not believe our questions are necessarily steps toward finding answers. Some of my favorite questions open me to more questions.

Appreciating questions is changing the way I enjoy reflecting and thinking about things. I no longer believe life, even spiritual life, is about finding answers to our questions.

We take time to listen to sacred stillness. Our questions and our doubts show us new directions to explore.

Appreciating Questions More Than Answers

We live lives fixated on the significance of answers.

The point of living in the Information Age appears to be having easy access to answers. We expect to be able to find information and answers with a few clicks or keystrokes. Our great institutions of education, commerce, even spiritual life focus on finding answers.

We assess and evaluate answers and information almost before we have even heard them. We want people to give us the bottom line, to summarize their work and give us their answer. Finding answers, accurate answers, seems to be essential to our lives.

We value people who can give us concise, coherent answers. Answers are powerful and profitable.

Some of us have forgotten the power of asking good questions. We research online by entering key words. Clear answers are available to us without asking clear questions.

We concentrate so much attention on answers we are in danger of forgetting our own questions.

There are people who do not even wait for us to finish asking before they start answering.

Part of the value of accurate answers is they are transitory. Our answers adapt over time, as our ability to perceive them changes.

One of the values of strong questions is they tend to remain strong over time. We may be asking the same questions we were asking years ago. Answers may become clearer as we continue to ask them.

Clear, accurate, understandable answers can help us. Insightful questions are keys to open the locked doors behind which answers, and more questions, are hidden.

There are times when our questions are not seeking information. The answers we can research online are often not particularly satisfying.

Our questions are deeper than the answers we can find. Appreciating questions allows us to go further and explore deeper territory.

Appreciating Questions For Their Own Sake

We talk about people being overcome or wracked by doubt, being consumed by questions.

I think it would be more helpful to think about people being stopped short by answers.

One of the great limitations of answers is they cause us to stop looking, stop exploring. Appreciating questions often opens us to new questions. When we find answers we often stop asking questions.

Our intellectual energy shifts from curiosity and asking new questions to defending answers we have found.

Fortunately we live at a time when there are many reasons to ask questions. Each branch of every academic discipline generates its own vocabulary which gives us endless questions to ask.

What does that word mean? Where does it come from? Who came up with that? How does that work?

Some of us seem to believe not asking questions helps us look smarter. We apparently think not needing to ask any questions means we already understand everything.

My experience is appreciating questions creates interesting new conversations. Most people already know there are things we do not understand and they would like to help us.

Our questions spark opportunities for new help and new understanding.

Appreciating Questions Helps Our Understanding Grow

We face a choice between living life, especially spiritual life, and merely allowing life to happen around us.

If we unquestioningly watch life happening around us it passes by without engaging us. Some of us talk about sleep walking our way through our days  or never really waking up. We close our eyes to what life is offering us.

Asking and appreciating questions allows us to live our lives fully.

Spiritual life can seem intimidating or overwhelming. Some of us believe spiritual life has left us lonely or in pain and we are afraid to ask too many questions. We may feel the questions we have already asked have not been answered.

It is central and essential to spiritual life for us to keep asking and appreciating questions.

Our questions are not insignificant distractions. Spiritual life is about the deep truths we explore with our questions. Our questions carry spiritual value and power.

There is more spiritual life in our questions than in the hushed cathedrals where some of us seem to believe God lives.

How will we begin appreciating questions in new ways today?

When will we allow appreciating questions to create new understanding this week?

[Image by Bilal Kamoon]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is, and his email address is

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