Questioning

Last night’s St John’s public lecture was about questioning and finding the right questions, which seemed appropriate since it was also parent night, and it served as a pretty good introduction to the method of study their sons and daughters will mostly be following. Mr McCombs argued that all “profound” learning requires intelligent questioning, including cases such as reading and appreciating great books, or learning from experience, where one might at first suppose that questions may not be entirely necessary.

Lately I have been encountering a lot of assertions to which I find myself replying (does a reply suggest a question?) something like: well, yes. To be sure. But the organization of my own mind and soul (perhaps even yours, since you seem to think along similar lines) is such that this answer mostly reflects something that is already internalized — not fully, of course, but perhaps enough to be going on with. Last night’s lecture was one of those cases. To be sure, I might ask more and better questions, which could prove fruitful. At the same time, intellectual questioning is in tension with a different mode of observation (silent watchfulness), which the Orthodox fathers and mothers consider at least as valuable, if not more so, and which is in far shorter supply at present. Questioning is, in many ways, less work — many of us have been brought up in it, have a lot of practice in it, and find it a comforting, familiar, well ordered process. Like having a well structured narrative of one’s own life (about which Orthodox are also pretty ambivalent), a lot of us like questions for the way they help our thought to take on a more coherent form, and go looking for questions (and narratives), and fastening upon them, whether they’re important and necessary or not. Many wise Orthodox people consider this to be problematic and ego-driven (in the Orthodox sense, which I can recognize, but not necessarily explain in a short space).

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