Saturday, July 08, 2006

Any Questions?

When I teach a class, I like the experience to involve a dialogue between myself and my students. Questions are an important part of that dialogue. Sometimes I can answer the questions, but other times I honestly don't know the answer. Not knowing the answer and searching for it is one of the ways I learn through the process. The best answer to many questions is ultimately, "It's a mystery." That's OK. Mystery is central to our way of life. It can't be adequately explained in human language. Mystery must be intimately experienced by the individual soul.

I really like when a student asks me an honest question in his or her sincere search for the Truth, a question that comes from the deep desire of the heart to know the Truth (through a personal experience) and be spiritual transformed by it.

On the other hand, I don't like when someone asks an insincere loaded question, a question wrapped around a hidden agenda. These kinds of questions are not asked as part of a serious search for the Truth, but to make a point disguised as a question. It's a question that might be asked by someone with crossed arms in a "convince me" posture. It may be laced with traces of sarcasm, cynicism, and pride.

Students may ask an insincere question as an emotional or intellectual reaction against something I, or someone else, has said. I can understand that. Truth challenges us. It calls into question the validity of what we have been taught, how we see the world, what we believe, how we feel, and how we live. The process can be uncomfortable. (I speak from my own experience.) The purpose of an antagonistic question may be to draw the teacher into an argument. In such a case when someone asks this kind of question, I simply try not to take the bait. I like to discuss, but I don't like to argue. Dialogue helps us explore, learn, grow, and find the right way. Since arguments result in the building of defensive trenches, I don't find arguing very helpful.

Apparently, I'm not the first teacher to encounter students who ask honest questions in a sincere search for the Truth as well as students who ask the other kind of questions. In the ancient work, On the Holy Spirit, written in the fourth century, St. Basil the Great addresses Amphilochios, who St. Basil compliments for his "love of learning and diligence in study:"

But what I admire most about you is that your questions reflect a sincere desire to discover the truth, not like many these days who ask questions only to test others. There is certainly no lack nowadays of people who delight in asking endless questions just to have something to babble about, but it is difficult to find someone who loves truth in his soul, who seeks the truth as medicine for his ignorance. Just as the hunter hides his traps, or an ambush of soldiers camouflages itself, so these questioners spew forth elaborately constructed inquiries, not really hoping to learn anything useful from them, because unless you agree with them and give them the answer they want, they imagine that they are fully entitled to stir up a raging controversy.
I, myself, a student in possession of much ignorance, have so much more to learn. May we all sincerely seek with humble hearts the light of divine Truth that dispels the darkness of ignorance so that we may indeed see and know the fullness of the life-changing Truth that sets us free.

Copyright © 2006 by Dana S. Kees. (The above quotation is from On the Holy Spirit by St. Basil the Great, translated by David Anderson. Popular Patristics Series. (Crestwood, NY: SVS Press, 1980), 15. The photograph, by Jose Warle, has been released into the Public Domain,