Invitations to Further Contemplation
Many of us do not appreciate questions, our own or those of other people. We tend to believe questions mean we are not being particularly clear. Most of us want to hurry on to answers and results, not get stuck in more questions. We generally experience questions as distractions, and not as invitations to further contemplation.
Our own questions often make us feel confused. If we truly understood something we would not have any questions, would we?
Questions seem to get in the way. Our questions make us feel like we do not understand things well. Questions from other people can send us off in different directions, chasing down details and distractions.
It can be a challenge for us to give questions the respect they deserve.
Some of us assume questions are primarily tools we use to find new answers. We focus our attention on finding an answer, and questions are what we use to get closer.
Most of us do not really appreciate our questions. They often make us feel insecure and a little uncomfortable. We do not want to have questions, what we really want are answers to our questions.
Some of us value certainty and knowing much more than we value asking questions. Our questions are the steps we take toward discovering answers.
We search for answers particularly when we talk about spiritual life. Many of us want to know what specific things are. We do not want an estimate or a guess about things, but to know what they actually mean.
Our questions are not necessarily steps toward finding answers. Some of my favorite questions are invitations to further contemplation.
I believe questions are far more powerful and significant than answers.
Are we willing to go where our questions would like to take us?
Inviting Us to Further Contemplation
We live at a time when it is not unusual to hear someone telling us what we should believe. People argue publicly about what is right in spiritual life and what is wrong. They seem to be convinced spiritual life is all about finding the right answers to our questions.
There were times when I was convinced of that as well.
I have been asking questions for as long as I can remember. The primary lesson I learned as I grew up was life was all about finding the right answers; in school, at home, in spiritual life.
Going to law school and practicing law as a criminal prosecutor gave me experience cross examining people. I needed to ask questions which were clear and persuaded people to give me the answers I wanted.
One of the most important things I needed to learn as a spiritual director was how not to cross examine people.
Spiritual life has brought me to a place where I believe in the power of asking questions. Our questions are important no matter what answers they might suggest, even when they confuse us.
I believe spiritual life lives in our questions at least as much as the answers we discover.
We ask where God is in our pain, our struggling, our loss, our hard work. Some of us ask how God can allow so much suffering in the world. We may ask questions about the complications of what people believe, or how anyone can believe that.
Asking questions draws us more deeply into spiritual life.
We ask questions to explore and contemplate new possibilities. Continuing to ask our questions allows us to recognize spiritual life within us and in the world around us. Our questions invite us into further contemplation.
When We Are Invited to Further Contemplation
We talk about people being overcome or wracked by doubt, consumed by questions.
I think it is often more insightful to look at people who are stopped short by answers.
One of the serious limitations of answers is they cause us to stop looking, stop exploring. Questions are often invitations to further contemplation. Finding what we accept as answers often stops us asking questions.
Our intellectual energy shifts from curiosity and further contemplation to defending the answers we have accepted.
Fortunately we live at a time when there are many good reasons to ask more questions. Each branch of every academic discipline generates its own vocabulary which gives us endless questions to ask.
What do those words mean? Where did they come from? Who came up with that? How does that work?
Some of us seem to believe we look smarter when we stop asking questions. We assume not needing to ask any questions means we already understand.
My experience is asking questions can create interesting new conversations and subjects for further contemplation. Our questions can help direct us toward new insights.
Questions spark opportunities for new help and new understanding and further contemplation.
Questions Invite Us to Further Contemplation
Much of the time I spend practicing contemplation is centered in the experience of stillness. I am not analyzing or trying to reason my way in any direction, but listening to the sacred stillness of spiritual life.
Contemplative practices are not designed to give us more time to figure out answers to our questions. In my experience, questions can shine a light on insights and concepts which demand more refection and contemplation.
I do not begin my time practicing contemplation with a list of questions I am trying to answer. Contemplation is not about collecting all the pieces of a puzzle and trying to fit them together.
For me, contemplation is more a practice of setting the puzzle aside for a few moments. We close our eyes, breathe deeply, listen to stillness and allow the pieces to sort themselves out.
We are not trying to recreate the picture on the top of the box. Contemplation allows us to recognize parts of the picture we have missed and see what was hidden in the shadows.
Where are our questions inviting us to further contemplation today?
How have questions already invited us to further contemplation this week?
[Image by Clearly Ambiguous]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual director in Southern California. He is a recovering assistant district attorney and associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.