By Steven Norris
One of the great gifts that my mother gave to me was a love for books. As a child, she read to me on a nightly basis. Regularly, I would select a yellow paperback that centered around an inquisitive little primate and his owner, “the Man in the Yellow Hat.” You can understand my delight when my own children fell in love with “Curious George” some years later.
The thing that I love about the series is George’s insatiable quest for learning and experiencing something new. The creators captured the appeal right there in the name: Curious George. Sure, they could have named it, “Mischievous George” or “George the Troublemaker” or “Messy George.” All of those would have been accurate, but they come up short.
I thought of that series this week while meeting with our ministerial staff. As part of our annual planning retreat, we talked about personality differences and used a tool to help us better understand one another’s strengths and weaknesses.
It was a fascinating opportunity to listen as other ministers described the varied ways in which they experience and interpret the world around them. Venturing beneath the surface of one’s actions to some of the motivations that drive them allowed us to connect and understand one another on a deeper level. Time would not allow it, but I think that we could have taken up the entire retreat mining the depths of those differences.
As I look at the current state of our world — the character of social conversations, the tenor of interactions on social media, the mood surrounding public debate — I cannot help but ask myself: Where has the curiosity gone? Have we become so sure of ourselves and our way of seeing the world that we no longer believe we have something to learn from others who see differently? Have we traded exploration and discovery for building higher walls and tighter borders in order to keep those who are different at a safe distance?
I wonder this, not just about our social interactions, but about our spiritual ones as well. Seemingly, one of the lost categories of our theological systems is that of mystery. Any honest conversation about the Divine must necessarily include a discussion of mystery and wonder — of the limits of our finite mind and human experience.
As hard as we may try, fully understanding God will remain elusive. All of my best reading, study, prayer, meditation, worship, and conversation will fall short of exhausting the magnitude of God’s nature. As the Apostle Paul described our situation, “we see but through a glass dimly…” If this is so, then maybe curiosity is a virtue necessary for growth and maturity.
Remembering the descriptions of the fruit of the Spirit — love, joy, peace, and so on — I am struck by how much I wish God had included the fruit of curiosity. Had we enshrined it in our sacred texts, maybe we would have a better chance of embodying it in our lifelong quest of truly knowing and being known.