Recently I started reading a book called God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World. Stephen Prothero published it in 2010, and HIES seniors are reading it in their Comparative Religion class. In one of the introduction’s sections, entitled “Big Questions,” Prothero reinforces my belief in the value of Essential Questions. Such questions help me navigate, and learn from, a play like The Tempest, or any piece of imaginative literature. I have selected passages from the “Big Questions” section of Prothero’s introduction (22-3). Below those excerpts, I have commented on connections between these passages and our Essential Questions for The Tempest.
“Every year I tell my BU undergraduates that there are two worthy pursuits for college students. One is preprofessional–preparing for a career that will put food on the table and a roof overhead. The other is more personal–finding big questions worth asking, which is to say questions that cannot be answered in a semester, or even a lifetime (or more). How do things come into being? How do they cease to be? How does change happen?
. . . “Before I came to describe myself as religiously confused, I thought I had the answers to the big questions. I now know I didn’t even have the questions right. If, as Muhammad once said, ‘Asking good questions is half the learning,’ I was at best a half wit. Today I try to follow the advice of the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke to ‘love the questions themselves,’ not least this one from the American mystic Walt Whitman [and his poem, “The Wound-Dresser”]:
. . . what saw you to tell us?
What stays with you latest and deepest?
of curious panics Of hard-fought engagements or sieges
tremendous what deepest remains? “
I could not have planned this, even if I had tried. The first two of the “big questions” above perfectly match our two for The Tempest. Think about it. What behaviors and beliefs cause strife and grief? (How do things come into being?). What are the roots of forgiveness? (How do they cease to be?). Prothero’s third question–How does change happen?–fits a Tempest question implied by our first two: What transforms strife and grief into forgiveness?
As we move through the initial confusions of The Tempest, use these weekend reflections as a way to return to our Essential Questions. Love the questions themselves. Think of the Shakespeare’s lines as light you shine on the EQs. When you use the play’s characters, their words and their actions, what new insights occur to you? Like waves breaking on the sand, each week’s writing returns to the same shore–the Essential Questions–churning up new discoveries for yourself and for those who walk this island’s shoreline after you.
A final word on Whitman. I love his line, “What stays with you latest and deepest?” Use this as a guide for your writing–any of your writing, not just these few weekend posts about The Tempest.
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