Holy Conversation: Wondering

This post is one of a series** expanding on messages preached at Eastview Baptist in Spring 2014. 

Thirdly in this series on Holy Conversations based on themes from a book called Godpsace by Doug Pollock, I want to mention Wondering your Way In to spiritual conversation. Wondering is a really natural and organic way into a deep conversation. It peels back the layers and helps us see ourselves and our world differently. Jesus asked some great wondering questions:
Why do you worry? (Matthew 6:28), What is it you want? (Matthew 20:21), Where is your faith? (Luke 8:25), What do you think? (Matthew 21:28).

He knew that people who aren’t interested in pat answers will often respond to our wonderings; they love it when we are interested in their point of view. Open  questions tap into a reservoir of human curiosity. Educators know this and use wondering questions with young children; counsellors use them to deflect suspicion and harness creativity. When an issue is posed as a question it starts a chain reaction that ignites our curiosity. 

I mentioned curiosity in the last post about listening, but curiosity also fuels questioning.  Curiosity has been described as a desire for learning and knowledge, but its underlying mechanisms were not well understood. However in 2009, seven behavioural scientists at CalTech performed MRIs on people while they read trivia questions. The level of curiosity when reading questions correlated with activity in regions of the brain thought to be involved with anticipating reward. A followup behavioural study showed subjects were willing to spend scarce resources to find out answers when they were more curious. Curiosity also increased participants memory for surprising new information. The research was published under the title "Curiosity: The Wick in the Candle of Learning."  A problem posed as a wondering question invites ideas that might be a solution. Not even just one solution; an open-ended, wondering question hints that there might be many approaches that could work. 

That's why Doug Pollock says "Wondering is conversational WD40;"  it helps overcome fear and hostility and acts as a social lubricant. Without respectful wondering, we can come across as arrogant and one-eyed. Another writer called Randy Newman describes his failed attempts at spiritual conversations like this: “I've often answered questions with biblically accurate, logically sound, epistemologically watertight answers, only to see questioners shrug their shoulders. My answers, it seemed, only further confirmed their opinion that Christians are simpletons." The "better way" he says  involves answering questions with questions; not for the sake of evasion but to allow the other to discover the deeper  issues for themselves. 

Good wondering questions don’t control the agenda, follow a script or launch into a monologue. They flow out of a desire to understand, show you are a good listener, and promote a conversation that can sensitively probe belief systems. Alpha Course leaders are trained to use non-judging responses like I notice that…or I’m interested in... Like ‘I’m wondering,’ they soften everything that comes later.  Garry Poole has written a whole book of conversation starters for any occasion - 1001 of them on a range of general and personal subjects. Although I can't imagine myself using some of these (eg, how many times a day do you look at yourself in the mirror?) there are others that could be useful with kids or teens, as well as adults (eg, which of the five senses do you treasure most?). The 'spiritual' section is a little intimidating, but if the questions were  reframed as wonderings, they could be more effective; eg  I'm wondering what it means to take a leap of faith? (The Complete Book of Questions, Garry Poole, 2003). Even 'Cowards for Jesus' like me can wonder out loud. 

Albert Einstein  is quoted as saying:  
The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when they contemplate the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.
Albert Einstein

When we started this series on sharing our faith, we asked, why would we want to talk to others about being a follower of Jesus? The preacher that day reminded us from 2 Cor 4 how faith in Christ means “the treasure of the universe is found in the core of our lives”.
We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. (2 Cor 4: 7)

This enterprise then of sharing our faith is not about our ability or goodness. It’s about a treasure that is God in usPreach the gospel at all times, St Francis is reputed to have said, and if necessary use words.  On our recent trip to Germany we were guided around a mediaeval town by a local historian. She described the life of the town in terms of princes and bishops and Jews and Nazis. But English is her second language and whenever she spoke about Christians, she  said "Christs". In 1732 the Christs did this. During the war the Christs did that. Those of you in the group who are Christs would know about something else. It was evocative. I felt the invitation of the Spirit. This is deeply biblical, I thought. I am not a coward;  I am a Christ. Wherever I go, Christ goes. He indwells me, he shines in me, he uses me.
May we all be a Christ in God’s world and in human conversation  this week.

To Chew Over: How do you respond to the idea of 'Being a Christ' in your everyday world? 

Awake from your sleep! 
Arise from the dead,
For Christ is shining in you!
Your darkness is past, 
Your morning is come,
For Christ is shining in you!

Come learn what pleases God,
And love what pleases God.
Come live what pleases God.
Come and walk in the light of the Lord! 

The fruit of light is joy.
The fruit of light is peace.
The fruit of light is hope.
Come and walk in the light of the Lord!
 Ken Bible © 2000 

** See the first and second posts in this series.


  1. I have always said I will be sitting at my Lords feet asking questions when I get to heaven. Then someone told me i would have all knowledge and wouldnt need to ask. Pity guess there will be something else to do up there.


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