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Stan Hampson — Ask a Better Question

Stan Hampson Ask a Better Question


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How many of you have attended a Unity Church somewhere along the way? Most of you. Marvelous. We’ve had some dealings directly or indirectly through that process because my whole work is involved with the Unity churches. As Paul has so well stated, we are headquartered here but involved with the 300 Unity churches here in North America and it’s an exciting activity. We, last month, had our ministers conference here and all these seats were filled with ministers from all over the world really. We have a lot of growing, a lot of activity, a lot of things unfolding in the whole Unity ministry.

Right now, Unity has been growing so fast that we have a shortage of ministers, and we’re training them as well and as quickly as we can, but the need has far outpaced the ability to produce ministers. Right now, when we finish placing our current ordinands in the next month or so, we’ll have at least 30 churches that we haven’t anybody to send them. We’ll be training more and graduating them next June, so we’re ... any of you have the call to be a Unity minister, you know, pray through that call and let us hear from you, because we’re really looking for ministers.

All of us are also looking for answers. Whatever we’re experiencing in our lives, we’re frequently looking for an answer. It would seem that if we could just find the right answer, our lives would take on all the good things that we’ve been seeking for a long time. But in reality, answers are quite insignificant. What shapes our lives and determines our experience is really the kind of question that we ask. Your life is shaped constantly, daily, momently, by your questions. An answer is like a closing door. It’s an ending. It’s a finishing. It’s a conclusion. But a question is always a new beginning. It is an opening, a fresh start, a sunrise.

I don’t know whether you’ve ever had an involvement with the Socratic dialogue of Socrates. It’s creative or frustrating, depending on how you approach the subject, but to ask a question and always be answered with another question, is a stimulating mind activity. It’s creative if your goal is really to be understood and to be involved in a dialogue. But so often when we ask a question, what we really want is an answer, or we think we want an answer, and of course, then sometimes as husbands, or wives, or parents we come up with that obvious answer that we think is so clear and the person really isn’t very interested in that answer at all. Too often we get trapped by the questions into the kind of answers that aren’t what we’re seeking. Life is really shaped by questions and to have more of the kind of free-flowing interchange with people, and God, and life, we need to really be involved in a quest for looking for better questions, rather than always seeking what we think might be the better answer.

Some years ago there was a popular book. It was more of a children’s book, but as so often with children’s books, they’re really for people with a childlike bent of attitude. This one was titled the first lines of the book, Where Did You Go? Nowhere. What Did You Do? Nothing. It’s typical of the kind of dialogue through the book and the kind of dialogue we have with children. Where did you go? Nowhere. What did you do? Nothing. What are you upset about? Nothing. What are you thinking now? Nothing. Did you enjoy, you know, and often we get involved with children. My children pointed out to me recently, “Do you realize that every time a stranger meets us, they always say, How do you like school?” When you think about that for a minute, what a dumb question to ask a child, “How do you like school?” I mean, that’s an immediate turn off.

Then often our questions with children are really yes or no kinds of responses, and we get these one or two syllable grunts and groans, and wonder why we don’t have a dialogue. Often because that’s the kind of questions that we’ve asked. Conversations with a child are so often, they don’t go anywhere, because we haven’t really asked a question that a child can respond to. Or so often in just a family relationship, the people who are related to us and closest to us are the people that we tend to say, “What do you think about the weather,” or “What did you think about the President’s latest statement,” or “Did you hear about the,” something that happened somewhere?” “Hmm, isn’t that interesting.” “The Royals lost again. Isn’t that interesting?” Those are the same kind of things that we would share maybe with a stranger, although too often we share with a stranger intimate aspects of our lives, and the people we’re closest to are the people we’re most estranged from, because we don’t ever really relate our relationships.

With the people we care the most about, can take a great, major, definite turn for the better by asking better questions. Often we don’t take that responsibility, but to realize just in that simple illustration of with a child, how if you stop asking them about school and ask them something else, or ask them something that cannot be answered by a yes or no. It’s a tricky thing. I catch myself frequently starting to phrase a question that can obviously be answered by a yes or no, and I realize I’ve just ended the conversation before it’s begun. That isn’t what my goal was at all.

In learning of any kind, not only is our family growing, our ties can grow. But any kind of learning situation depends on the questions asked. Every teacher has experienced the frustration of the students never asking the right questions, or of just simply not even having the questioning mind. The question always shapes the kind of answer, and depending on the question, we grow, even when we’re asking our mind, when we’re asking a book while we’re reading it, while we’re asking the speaker in our minds, while that speaker is speaking. The questions shape the learning more than the teacher has really that much control over.

There’s a simple little quatrain that points this kind of, a dilemma of how we sometimes ask the wrong question, but also how the questioning shapes the answer. A student of the Zen master asked, “What is life after death?” The Zen master answered in a Socratic way, “Why ask me?” The student said, “Because you are a master.” “Ah, yes, but not a dead Zen master.” We don’t know things beyond our own experience. Now, we look at this in a couple different ways. Obviously the questioning routine led to a different insight that we can only absolutely know what we ourselves have absolutely experienced. Again, by questioning, the teacher has taught. But in another sense, how many times we don’t ask the right questions, or we ask the right question of the wrong person, and so we aren’t really learning the kinds of things we want.

In all of life, and we’ve talked briefly about our interchange with other people, and the learning process in general, but in all of life the questioning you ask, the questions you ask, the questioning set of mind shapes your entire experience. We so often think it’s the circumstances, it’s the situation, it’s the kind of parents I had, it’s the kind of education I had, it’s the kind of neurotic person I’m married to. All of these things shape my experience, rather than, what am I doing with my experience? What am I asking? What is my question?

Here’s an illustration for you. An elevator starts out empty and there’s nobody on it. It goes up one floor and five people get on. Then it goes to the next floor and three people get on, but five people get off. Then it goes to the next floor and three people get on and two people get off. Then two people get on and two people get off. Then six people get on and then five people get off. How many times did the elevator stop? Now some of you were probably trying to add and subtract people. Others of you might be really clever, may have come up with an answer, but that wasn’t the question. No matter what answer you came up with, it was the wrong answer, because that wasn’t the question. The question shapes the exercise. The question shapes your experience.

You know, questioning really determines so much in your life. A good lawyer can ask a question in such a way that you don’t know how to answer it, and no matter how you answer it, you’re in trouble. The classic example is, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” How are you going to answer that? No? Oh really. Yes? Huh, that’s interesting. How are you going to answer that?

Gregory Bateson, who has done a lot of study of the mind, indicates that much of schizophrenia, which is the major kind of mental illness that we observe in this country, comes from the double bind, the double bind, the sense of not being able to determine between two alternatives, because either way is wrong. His good example is, the mother comes home and gives her son two tee shirts. He goes up stairs and puts one on. He comes down. She says, “What’s the matter, you don’t like the other one?” No matter what you do, you’re lost. A lot of us have people that we deal with, that are like that. No matter what you do, you’re in trouble. No matter what you say, it’s going to be the wrong thing, totally, completely shaped and formed by the question.

Other people’s questions are shaping your life. Whenever you go to fill out a bank form to open a charge account, or whether a charge account at a store, or you’re going to apply for a job and what do they ask you? A whole lot of questions, and a lot of them immaterial questions. You know, we have made laws now, where a lot of those questions that used to be asked, can’t be asked anymore, because they were such controlling kinds of questions. I looked at some standardize application form just yesterday, and it said, “Age, if under 18.” I thought, “Isn’t that clever,” because most of them say, “Age,” and so you go ahead and fill it out, and all these things go through your mind. You’re filling out your age. They’re not going to throw a party for you. They’re not even going to send you a birthday card. It is absolutely none of their business when your birthday is.

Too many people have been trapped for years to think, well, I’m X years. You know, I counseled people regularly, lie about your age, because age itself is a lie. It is a lie. I know people who are 35 years old who are much less capable than people who are 75 years old. In dealing with placing ministers, they’ll say, “Well, we want a young man who will last us a good long time,” and the young men I deal with, I have a hard time keeping them staying in one place for two years. But you take somebody who’s 65, and they might be there 35-40 years. You might have trouble getting rid of them. I mean, age is ridiculous. How many times we’re asked questions like that, “Well, when was it you were born dear?” You know, and no matter what you say, you’re in trouble, because you’re either too old or too young. You’re either too gray or too grassy green. You know this old song.

We’re controlled again by questions, that here, and in an activity like this, where you’re meeting people, and you’re meeting new friends that will be friends for life. You may not write or call each other again when you leave here, or you may, but you’ll still be friends for life, because of what you’ve shared with each other. Yet, how many times at an event like this, I’ll catch myself and so I know you’re doing it too, we’ll meet a new person and we’ll say, “And what do you do for a living?” What difference does it make what a person does? I mean, except you’re trapped in your own little pigeon holes and if you dig ditches you go over here, and if you sell used cars you go over here, and if you’re a preacher you go over here, and if you’re a president of a firm, if you’re a housewife ... You understand it. I mean, it’s kind of silly. You try to come up with clever titles like a house management or a something else. It doesn’t matter what you do.

I’ve often thought that when someone asks us what we do, we should just be prepared with another question or to say, “It doesn’t matter.” Or, “Ask me another question. I don’t want to tell you what I do.” Or, “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” I find that frequently when people ask me what I do, you know, for one thing, I can’t really explain the whole structure of the Association of Unity churches, and that I spend most of my time with a headset on, because I’m talking on the telephone, and I’m pushing papers, and I’m speaking all over the United States, and you know, I can’t really explain that very well. If I say I’m a minister, which I really am, if I say I’m a minister then I get either two responses. They either want to tell me all their troubles, and that really isn’t what I came to the party for, or they immediately turn on their heel and leave, because they think I’m going to try to save them or something.

I usually tell people, when they ask me what I do, you know, I tell them I sell fire insurance. That’s an intended pun. A lot of ministers do that. Then we can get on with the business of being friends. You know, what a person does is so really insignificant as compared to what a person is. What we are is what it’s all about in relating to each other. Some of us need to be thinking in terms of different questions. For instance. When you meet someone and you think, “Well now, what do I say? I’ve said hello and she’s said hello. Then what do we say,” you know, “Where did you come from? I like your dress.”

You know, sometimes it’s kind of hard getting a conversation started. Once it gets started, then it happens of itself, but to ask, like, “What is the most meaningful part of your day,” or, What’s the best thing that’s happened to you?” I’ve done this several times in parties and say, “What are the two or three most exciting things that have happened to you in the last year,” and that’s kind of an interesting beginning to dialogue. Pretty soon you find that you’ve gotten into a rather serious conversation. Now, maybe you couldn’t do that at every part, but the sense of asking something other than what we often get trapped into asking, the stereotype questions that don’t take us anywhere.

If a person has just lost their job or if a person has just retired, and they’re dealing with that, and maybe they haven’t gotten through it yet, it’s sometimes, you know, for a year or two after you retire can be a real challenge. You don’t think it’s going to be, but there’s a point in there somewhere where you know, all those phones and all those people who needed you so desperately, and suddenly nobody calls, and nobody really needs you. It can be a traumatic kind of adjustment for a while, until you suddenly realize, you don’t need them. But it takes a while to get to that sometimes. We ask a question and say, you know, “What do you do,” and we’ve just destroyed the conversation. Now, I’m really wanting you to get a feel for this, the sense of how questions shape us and control us. Questions manipulate and direct our lives, and we, as children of God, can direct our own lives by the kind of questions that we are asking.

A good Unity student, a friend of mine who was on the board and the church while I served in Honolulu, Hawaii for sometime, her name is Edith, she gave me permission to tell this story whenever I wanted to. Edith feels she probably programmed this because she was quite afraid that, she heard friends talking at Bridge about obscene callers, and she was thinking, “Oh, I hope I never get an obscene caller. I really don’t want to have anything like that. That would really frighten me. I’m alone. I have several houses that I manage,” and you know? She probably set that in motion, because sure enough she got an obscene caller.

But she was, as Edith is, equal to any task. This man started saying whatever he was saying, and she said she asked her own question. She said, “Young man, do you realize that you are a child of God? Do you know that you don’t need to be calling people like this, because if you really knew you were a child of God, you would grow and unfold the power within you.” He hung up on her and he never called back. She’d like to think he got a healing. He was sure healed of calling her, that’s for sure. But she controlled her own experience by the kind of response or specifically the kind of question that she asked.

Jesus said, “Ask and it shall be given you.” Seek, knock, it’s our own response or our own application of the principle that opens the things that we want. Questions shape your environment. You control people. You control circumstances. You control your relationship. You control your social relationships with other people. So much of your life is being conditioned by the questions that you yourself are asking, or that you are letting yourself respond to other people’s questions. The same thing like a ringing telephone. A ringing telephone is a question that somebody else is asking, “Are you home and wanting to talk right now?” You don’t have to answer it to say, “No.”

I had a dear, 80 year old friend who taught me that. We were visiting in her house, and the phone rang, and she said, It isn’t convenient for me to answer the phone right now, and I pay the phone bill, so if it doesn’t bother you, we’ll just let it ring.” I thought, “Well, isn’t that a good idea?” I pay the ruddy phone bill, not whoever’s calling, and I don’t really want to answer the phone sometimes, so I don’t answer it. It’s so freeing. Oh, sometimes you sit there like this, you know, but maybe it’s ... Well, it isn’t. It never is, and if it’s important, they’ll call back again later when you’re out of the shower, or when you stop stirring the pot, or when you stop your yoga exercise, or when your meditation is over, or whatever.

Have you ever noticed how in stores or in relationships how the ringing telephone question is one that will often take precedence in people’s minds over the person who’s gotten a live body there? I find myself very resentful that I’ve gotten to come and talk to somebody, and their phone rings, and they talk on the phone. I feel like, “I should have gone home and called them.” I tried to make sure I don’t do that. If my phone rings and somebody’s there, I don’t hear the phone, because I’m talking to the live bodies, you know, the ones that are there, because I like to touch, and smell, and taste people anyway, rather than just hear their voice in my soggy ear. It’s interesting, I had a real hangup all my life with telephones, and here I’ve drawn myself into a job where I talk on the telephone mostly. That’s some kind of necessary unfoldment.

I read recently that the most asked question in the English language, or before I tell you, you might query for a minute. What do you think is the most common question asked? Knowing that questions are so important, shaping our environment and our whole experience, what do you think is the most important question? No. “What time is it?” “What time is it?” You’d think only three or four people had a watch. Tied for second place is, “How much,” and, “How many,” and probably, “How are you,” would come in there somewhere.

I’d like to propose that one of the questions that we ask quite frequently, and often we’re not aware is the question, “Why? Why did this happen to me? Why is this occurring? Why is this? Why me, Lord? Why did this come my way?” Sometimes such a why might lead to an intelligent answer. It usually doesn’t. What it usually leads to is some kind of stall, delay, or short circuit from the kind of direction our lives really want to take. It’s incredible to realize that the importance of the question shapes and frames the whole life, our whole life. Yet, here we spend our lives in the question of, “What time is it,” and, “How few or how many,” or something, rather than asking the significant questions.

Do you realize that many of Jesus’ most important statements came because the so called, Doubting Thomas questioned, and by asking the questions, gave the opportunity for the teacher to give the instruction, that wouldn’t have come else wise? So much is shaped by the question. Then here we are in a trauma, a difficulty, a challenge, an event of circumstances, whatever has happened, and we say, “Why?” Usually what we’re doing is trying to justify our own helpless victim status. We feel that we’re a mess, because we’re not loved, because other people failed us, so we’re helpless victims. We’re innocent. I mean, nice people like me shouldn’t have things like that happening to them, and yet this has happened to me, so I’m obviously a helpless victim. A lot of people spend their whole lives being professional helpless victims.

One of the things about truth is that we stop being victims and we start saying, “At some point, I have to take responsibility for my own life,” which doesn’t give me the opportunity to say, “It’s all their fault.” At some point, I stop and realize that no matter what my parents did to me, I bought it or it wouldn’t be a part of me. No matter what’s occurred, I bought it. I bought into it. I started answering the question. I answered the ruddy telephone, or whatever I did, and I am a part of that same activity. But still, other people do those things and they don’t get caught. Other people have these horrible, you know, and it doesn’t happen to them this way. But my boss is the mean one, and my kids won’t listen, and my husband won’t come to church, and my horoscope did this, and my karma is doing something else.

All we’re doing is, “Why me,” trying to justify our innocence, which doesn’t lead anywhere. So you’re innocent, so life has just dumped all of it’s garbage on you. Whoa is you. It’s too bad about you, you know, so where are you going to go with that? You can feel sorry for just so long, and then realize sorriness isn’t where it is. That’s not what life happens to. Or sometimes we ask it differently. We ask it in a sense of really justifying our own guilt. It’s not an innocent kind of justification, but the sense of, because I’m such a lousy, stinking person, that obviously I deserve this tragedy in my life, and I wonder what it was I did this time, that I got it again. Why did I bring this into my life, this unkindness, or this headache, or what crack did I step on to break my mother’s ...

You know we had as children these magical little things. If I do something magically, if I say the right talisman, if I say the prayer with the right tone of voice, if I sit facing the right direction, if I have the right posture, if I eat just the right food, you know, then it’s all going to be all right. Hocus Pocus! Whew, whew, and all my evilness is gone, and I get good things in life. But that isn’t what it’s all about either. It’s not magic. Occasionally we ask, why, and we are really looking for an answer that means that we’re going to have to do some work, like, you know, my health could have a lot to do with why I’m eating the way I’m eating, and I’m exercising the way I’m not exercising, and the kind of things I’m drinking, and smoking, and all these other things. Sure, it’s going to have some affect on my health. Well, but I don’t really want to add that kind of answer, because that means I’ve got to probably do something.

Or, you know, maybe I have these headaches because I lose my temper so much, and I get so cross at people, and I scream and show and rage at individuals. Maybe if I didn’t have such a stinking disposition, I would have my headaches. But I don’t want to change my disposition. I’d much rather change my husband or someone else. Sometimes we start asking, why, and we’re questioning only, and it’s so interesting “Why? Why this? Why this tragedy? Because I’m innocent? Because I’m guilty? Ah ha! I found the answer. It’s my mother’s karma from three life times ago that brought this onto me.” We can find all kinds of incredible reasons. I don’t know what they prove. They justify our guilt or innocence, but they don’t really prove anything.

There’s an old thing called Occam’s Law that says we tend to find the simplest, most obvious answer. The classic example is the man is walking along the street and he sneezes. Just then children throw a snowball and knock his hat off, and he concludes that sneezing loses your hat. Never sneeze or you will lose your hat. Too often we have the same kind of conclusion. We find a relationship where there is no relationship, and we have certain answers because we’ve asked the wrong question. Your life is shaped by your question, and we need, more than anything else in our lives, to shape our lives better by asking better questions. What you ask, you will receive. What you knock, will be opened. What you see, you will find. The better question probably isn’t, “Why?” Or, “What time is it?” Or, “How much or how many?” The better question is undoubtedly a direction to unfold the kind of answers that we want.

Look at the way this is dealt with in the 13th chapter of Luke. We don’t get the specific question, but we get an implication of what it was. There were present, and people were talking, and they told him of Galileans whose blood Pilate had sacrificed, and Jesus answering them, so they must have said, “Why,” because he said, “Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all Galileans, because they suffered such things? But I say unto you, nay, except ye repent, ye shall likewise perish.” In the same little dialogue again, “Or of those eighteen upon whom the tower of Siloam fell and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all the men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, nay, but except ye repent, ye shall likewise perish.”

What is he talking about? Repent means a lot of different things, but it means basically going a different direction. In this context, it could easily mean, turn around and go in another direction. Ask a better question, because you’ve asked, “Why did this tragedy occur? You think because they’ve got it in the head, which they deserved, ah ah, the cause affect really zapped them? Instant karma. Boy, they got it, and I say, “Nay, but except ye repent, and except ye ask another kind of question, you’re going to have the same kind of difficulties.” In other words, the state of mind that is asking, “Why,” and trying to justify innocence and guilt, is in the state of mind that’s going to be producing problems. But the state of mind that isn’t asking that question, is asking a different kind of a question. Don’t ask, “Why,” because there isn’t any answer, basically, is what he’s saying.

There was an item in the newspaper, very interesting interview with a chaplain here in Kansas City, a Lutheran chaplain who, his ministry is to terminal patients in hospices and hospitals, who are dealing with their terminal-ness. He said, “So often we get into the process of asking why,” and he says here, “I have found that this is a typical reaction of someone who is facing such a situation. People feel that, I’ve gone to church. I’ve read my Bible, so why is this happening to me? It doesn’t seem fair. Now I have come to know,” and he had to deal with a lot of growing on his own. He said, “Now I have come to know that, why, is not the proper question, but what. What? What is the purpose? Why suggest that God doesn’t know what He’s doing? What, suggests that I, in my wisdom, do not understand, but God does.”

To ask a better question certainly involves a sense of, what? Or in a Gestalt workshop I attended recently, the only relevant questions, according to that activity, were, what and how, never why. What and how? What is happening in my life right now and how am I going to change it, if I need to? Jesus obviously never heard of Gestalt therapy, but he demonstrated this same truth in a dramatic way. We read in the 5th chapter of John, where at the pool of Bethesda we read Jesus’ encounter, “There was in Jerusalem, by the sheep market, a pool, which is called Bethesda, having five porches.” It has a lot of inner significance. “In these, lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water.” You know the story. “For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool and troubled the water, and whosoever was first after the troubling of the water, would be healed. And a certain man was there who had, had his infirmity for thirty and eight years.” That’s a long time to be asking, “Why?”

“When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been a long time in that case, he sayeth unto him, wilt thou be made whole? And the man answered.” The appropriate response would have been yes, but he answered, “Oh, I don’t have a man, when the water’s troubled, to put me in the pool.” He answered the why. Jesus hadn’t asked him, why, but he was so conditioned, he answered why. “I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me in the pool. But while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. Jesus sayeth unto him, rise, take up thy bed, and walk, and immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked.” That’s rather significant. Jesus didn’t buy into what he was saying. We have numerous examples of Jesus asking questions, and the people responding, and then he would ask a different question. They obviously didn’t hear the question or he didn’t answer in the way they anticipated. He wasn’t obviously buying into the sense of an innocent victim. He said essentially, “Do you want to be healed? Then get off it.”

My daughter, when she was very young, came home from Sunday School and said, “You know, we had a wonderful story about Jesus healing this man who had been on a bed for a long time, and Jesus said, Take your bed and get out of here.” We have a lot of laughs over it, even though it wasn’t quite the way that we remembered the story. In a sense, that’s what Jesus said here, “Take your bed and get out of here. Do you want to be healed? Then get on with it, and quit justifying with your traditional, Why did this happen to me? Well, because nobody’s there to help me. Oh, if you had the trouble, you know, when the Lord says tribulation, boy do I tribulate.” That’s not the message.

The message says, “You’re going to bring tribulation into your life, but you don’t have to tribulate. You don’t have to get all upset. You don’t have to worry, and be all in a stew, and trying to figure out what you did wrong this time. But rather to get involved in the activity of realizing what is happening, and then how you’re going to change it, and make your life work in the more creative way that you want it to. If we simply get tripped up in our guilt, we don’t really accomplish what we want. If we get bogged down in trying to justify our innocent status, we don’t get where we want to go either. But at some point we take a responsibility, or as one theologian calls it, “A sense of responsible guilt.” A responsible guilt. That’s not a heavy guilt. That’s a sense of, okay, this is my life. I’ve made it this way, and if I want to change it, I’m going to change it.

But what is really happening? What can I learn from this? What can I grow out of this? How am I going to make this effective? What is going on here, and regardless of that what, there’s always an, yet, there’s something more. There’s something that I can do with my life. I can make my life more exciting, rather than simply rationalize, and justify, and living with the excuses. As William Glasser, a psychologist in Los Angeles, has said, a psychiatrist rather, “A lot of people are looking for excuses. Therapy says, forget the excuses and get on with the business of improving your life.” Get on with the business of improving your life in the way you want to go. You know, too many people have bought the bill of goods wholesale that Freud sold us, that because your parents did certain things to your early training, that you’re conditioned for the rest of your life. That just isn’t so. Your parents don’t dictate your experience.

Your crossed stars, your karma, nor principalities, nor things seen or unseen can separate you from the love of God. Whether you’re guilty, or innocent, or whatever you’ve done or left undone, your consciousness of life creates your experience in life. That’s very simple. Your consciousness of prosperity determines your experience in prosperity. You don’t buy it. Your consciousness of health determines your experience in health. It doesn’t have anything to do with how often you go to church. You don’t bargain with God. You create a consciousness of what it is that you want to experience. If you want a consciousness of God, you can have a beautiful consciousness of God, and that’s usually what going to church is all about, and your meditation, and your prayer, and your reading. Your consciousness of God determines your experience in God. Your consciousness of health determines your experience in health. Your consciousness of love determines your experience in loving and being loved.

Now take a marriage situation. Any of us who has gone through the experience or had people close to us, and of course a minister has a great deal of experience in this way, because I think most of our counseling as ministers is with marital relationships, and the sense of, “Why did this happen to me? Why, after the best years of my life, why, why,” rather than what’s really happening, what is really occurring? Often the real what is that somebody’s just chosen to leave you, whom you needed to get rid of a long time ago. What’s happened is maybe you’ve just outgrown a really sick dependency. That happens. That’s not the whole picture of course, but what is really happening? Maybe I’ve really driven someone away from me, because of certain neurotic behavior on myself, and what I really want to do is do somethings, and change myself, so that whether that person ever comes back to me or not, I will be the better person that I want, for the kind of people I want.

“What’s really happening and how am I going to make this more creative?” Or sometimes, you know, “Why is it that I never succeed? Why do the other people always get ahead?” You can get in a state of consciousness no matter what check-out line you choose, the other ones always go faster. No matter what lane, there can be 10 lanes across there on the highway going around Baltimore, and no matter what lane you choose, it’s the slow one. Well, you know, maybe there’s a pattern. It’s not, “Why is this happening to me,” it’s, “What is happening? What am creating? What am I conscious of, and if that’s my consciousness, maybe I better change my consciousness and see it unfold in a different way.

You know, alcoholism is one of those terrible, mysterious diseases that affect so many millions of people in our country. The healing begins and can only begin, it appears, with those uncompromising four words, “I am an alcoholic.” Once the person defines that what, not why, why just leads to the next bottle, but what, what leads to a new how that says, “That isn’t what I want to do with my life anymore.” Once we uncompromisingly face the whats of our life, then there’s always a yet. There’s always something more that makes our lives take on a different shape. There are the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that do wound us. There are many tragedies, and there really aren’t any answers. As Jesus said in the sense of the tower falling and the other events, “Don’t ask why. Repent. Ask a different question. Else wise you’ll have the same kind of problems.” There really aren’t any answers.

Too often when we ask why, we get up with Occam’s law. We come up with supercilious answers that really aren’t the answer in the serious traumas and tragedies of life. When we’re really, you know, in the kinds of terminal death, trauma, things that we encounter as people in the world, we ask why and there is no answer. It’s simply, rocks are hard, and water is wet, and bullets kill, and, you know tires with air in them are prone to lose that air. I mean, there are things in the world. Why isn’t usually our answer, but a what. You know in any kind of grieving situation, when we move out of the why into the what is happening, “What is the dynamic of my love? What is it that I feel and that I hurt so badly? I hurt so bad because I love so much.” When we really get into the what, then we can move into the healing that enables us to hurt, because we love, and then love more fully, and move into whatever we need to do.

What’s happening in your life right now at this retreat? There are things happening. There are inner things occurring. There are concerns unfolding, new ideas and new consciousness surfacing. What? What’s happening in your body when you get hungry, or when you get tired, or when you feel like you’ve had so many meetings your eyes are spinning like numbers on a slot machine? What is happening? As you are increasingly aware of the what in your life and in your own body, and you ask that better question, “What is this,” then you find that surfacing, a how to go forward.

Several years ago, a young man made his 19th skydive, and the shoot failed to open, and the emergency shoot got tangled in the unopened first shoot, and he slammed into the ground at 60 miles per hour. Medically it looked as though he would never leave his bed. But the thing that turned the tide for him was another patient who visited him, a patient whose spinal chord had been severed in an automobile accident, and he couldn’t even walk. He couldn’t even move a finger. He said, in his own cheerfulness, “I don’t recommend this condition to anybody, and yet, I can read. I can listen to music. I can talk to my friends.” “And yet,” by accepting that what and seeing what it was, not questioning, not worrying about it, but being the what, where it was, he was able to make his life work to the capability that was available to him. His inspiration caused that skydiver to get busy and start doing the things he needed to do, to make his life work, to where he eventually was able to walk without a limp.

Whenever there’s a what, there’s always a how, but we have to ask the better question. We have to get off the foolishness of trying to justify our problem, to start finding the answer. William Bolitho, the biographer, said, “The difference between a man and a fool is simply the ability to profit from losses.” The thing that makes us succeed is the ability to find a way to define something better to do than what we’ve been doing. Whatever happened to you, whatever kinds of events have led you to this point in time and space, why, why? Come on, you can ask a better question. Whenever you catch yourself asking ridiculous, supercilious, or unimportant questions, “What time is it? Where do you work? What do you do? Do you like school,” you can catch yourself and realize those are rather ridiculous questions and I can find better questions. I can ask the kind of question of, “Who are you? What’s most important in your life? What do you like best about your day? Do you like cauliflower?”

I don’t know what it might be, but it might be a whole other kind of question than you ever asked before. Ask a better question and you’re not wallowing in your grief and your problem. You’re moving into a whole new cycle of life. Life is tough. Life is full of problems. But you are tough and prepared to solve problems. As George Bernard Shaw said so powerfully, “People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, make them.”

Make your own circumstances, a commitment right here today to make your own circumstances and create the kind of life you want, recognizing that your life is probably marvelously, incredibly shaped by the questions you ask. What are you asking. What sort of questions are you asking of life? Five people got on the elevator and three got off. Your question determines the answer, not the statistics, not the circumstances. Ask, see, knock, and that’s what you find. Oh, ask why, if you think you must, and then you’ll find that you’re an innocent victim, or you’re really a no good snook. Or you’ll find that, you know, if you do sneeze, that does cause hats to get lost in the snow. Life is tough and so are you. You can face the reality of asking, “What? What is this that I’m needing to meet? What is the good here? I can repent and ask a better question, not what time is it, but what is happening, and how can I change it?”

Do you want to be healed? Then take up your bed and walk. Ask the kind of questions that get on with the healing. Do you want to be happy, or healthy, or successful? Then take up your bed and get out of here. Get on with that kind of activity. Get on with the business of improving your life. Get on with utilizing your ability to profit from your losses, rather than simply sitting there and stewing in your own questions. Ask a better question. “What’s really happening? How can I change it?” The power of God flows through you, but you shape it. Your consciousness determines your experience, and your consciousness is most often conditioned by your questions that you ask. Let it be a byword in many ways of many aspects of your life. Whenever you want to see your life get better, ask a better question. Whatever’s happening in your life, find that you exert a better control. Ask a better question.

Let’s do this inwardly for just a moment. Take some deep breaths. Go down to the center of your being. We are now in the presence of pure being and immersed of the Holy Spirit of life, love, and wisdom. We acknowledge your presence and your power, oh, blessed Spirit. From your divine wisdom, now erase our mortal limitations, and from your pure substance of love, bring into manifestation our world according to your perfect law. Through your presence and your power within us, we can do all things. We can do all things. We can meet any challenge and be victorious in spite of it or through it. We would give thanks that your presence here invites a different question from us, that you have challenged us to knock, to see, to ask differently. In our relationship with you and with all of your other children, we can find that as we ask differently, we experience differently. What is this, Lord? Alright. How do you want me to deal with it? I can do all things through your presence within me.

Let’s close the morning activities by letting all of the energy, and the excitement, and the singing, and the lessons, and the ideas blend and mellow. Sometimes we rush to lunch. We can’t go before 12:30 anyway, but we rush in, and we eat too much, and too quickly. Set our minds to ask something different of our bodies. We’re open and receptive to a joyous afternoon. Then think about some questions you’d like to ask God and some questions you’d like to ask other people. See if you can meet some people, and talk to them, and never even know what they do, or what they did, but more who they are. See if you can deal with that. It’s a very uncomfortable kind of sensation to know someone and like them, but not know their name sometimes, or not know where they’re from, or not know what they do, not necessarily all of those. What kind of questions? The question is the start of the God activity, so new questions emerging in and through us. In the name of that presence that asks us to follow him, Amen.