Ever notice that Question has the word Quest in it?
As it turns out, I certainly wasn't the first to notice this (link to articles). Quest and question both evolved from the Latin verb quaerere, meaning to seek or to ask.
What a beautiful affair! That means that etymologically, to quest and to question are the same fundamental activity. And I'll argue that to quest(ion) well is to engage equal parts wonder, curiosity, humility, and audacity and to let that search act upon us and shape us.
I will admit it: I love reading too far into linguistic coincidences like this. Yes, it's almost certainly a coincidence that the words quest and question both evolved from the root quaerere. And yes, it's also a lot of fun to invent reasons for what that might mean for us. If the imaginative flight is more than just whim and entertainment and actually teaches us something useful and interesting, all the better.
To quest and to question each implies the other. The questioner embarks on a quest to answer their question. Answering a truly profound, creative, or apt question can easily become quite the voyage across ideas, beliefs, disciplines, and even places. And any good quest begins with asking the right question. If we can't ask the right questions, the answers and treasures we'll find won't be the ones we need. A question frames and informs the entirety of the search that is to come. Asking the best possible questions can mean the difference between finding the symptoms and finding the cause, between superficiality or profundity, between the idiomatic and the universal. Indeed, the quest-taker must question everything he holds dear: who he is, what he seeks, what he is leaving behind. Otherwise he could never have taken the decision to strike out from home in the first place.
Home- a place of comfort, from whence the quest(ion)er must part before they can find the growth they seek. It could be a physical home a pilgrim leaves behind or a mental or spiritual home, a metaphor for the comfortable beliefs and certainties we hold about ourselves and the world that will be challenged by our search for our boon, our answer. To quest(ion) is to voyage outside of our narrowly circumscribed bubble, home, or comfort zone and to let the mysteries, hazards, and surprises beyond shape us and grow us.
We use different language to describe manifestations of the same fundamental process, that quaerare mentioned before. Indeed, the same qualities are needed to be fruitful in both questioning and questing: a certain dissatisfaction with the status quo and a curiosity for what's out there. Otherwise the quest(ion) would never begin. Comfort with ambiguity and a dedication to some higher ideal are both needed (truth, for example), lest the quest(ion) be abandoned mid-journey. In both cases, the quest(ion)er seeks some boon: new knowledge, new powers, enlightenment, whatever it may be. In both cases equal parts humility and audacity are required to finally acquire and integrate the boon: audacity to make it that far, and humility, born from having been humbled, to surrender to an answer that is probably greater and more awesome than us. To quest(ion) is to seek something beyond ourselves. That search carves into us, like the form gradually emerging from marble or wood, worked by an expert hand. If we are sufficiently carved by the circumstances we may get a glimpse of the terrifying hand doing the carving- terrifying as all things greater than us are.
Quest(ion)ing is serious business and always an intensely spiritual one at that. Images of Socrates come to mind and his unfaltering quest for truth, his relentless need to question everything, though it cost him his life. What else could he do? Nothing less was at stake than his very conception of himself and his reality. He was a philosopher, and a philosopher was to face death stoically. To flee death would be to flee before the circumstances that would affirm his very identity. We face the same struggle in our daily quest(ion)ings. Are we ready to find the answer, the great boon, and ultimately affirm ourselves? Joseph Campbell, in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, points out the perils that await the spiritually unprepared adventurer, told through the story of Actaeon. While hunting, he accidentally happens upon a grotto where the goddess Diana and her nymphs are bathing. Infamously chaste, Diana is furious that a mortal has happened across her secluded bathing spot. Actaeon doesn't last long before the chance sight of such divine beauty. Diana turns him into a deer, and he is killed by the very friends he was hunting with.
Perhaps this is because, as any good traveler knows, it's how you get there that matters. The value of a quest(ion) is in how we find the answer, not in the answer itself. The trials and tribulations of the quest transmute us into the person who can stand, humbly and audaciously, before the divine. Without that spiritual fortification, we are as Actaeon, succumbing to fear, anxiety, surprise, and despair.
Rainer Maria Rilke said,
"...be patient towards all that is unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms, like books written in a foreign tongue. Do not now strive to uncover answers: they cannot be given you because you have not been able to live them. And what matters is to live everything. Live the questions for now. Perhaps then you will gradually, without noticing it, live your way into the answer, one distant day in the future."
To quest(ion) means to live the answers. It's the journey, not the end. It is to leave behind the comfort of home and all the baggage we carry: old mental schema, perspectives, identities; and to venture forth in search of an ideal- be it truth, beauty, adventure, or anything in between- armed with only our curiosity and courage. In doing so we approximate ourselves towards the universal and the infinite, and let that act upon us and change us. To quest(ion) means surrendering to the process and loving the questions and the unresolved parts of our life and the overwhelming ambiguity of it all.
The point is not to find the answer but rather to find the answer magnificently.
...sees much and knows much