The Spiritual Practice of Curiosity

Part of the delight of spending time with my tiny grandson is that he takes nothing for granted.
Nothing.
“Bam, why bubble pop?”
“Because you stood on it.”
“Why?”
Well, good question.  Why indeed, but our conversations routinely run on in this vein of relentless curiosity.  They move forward not because “Bam” comes up with anything like satisfactory answers, but because the two-year-old mind has jumped the rails to a new topic.

Historically, the church has an uneasy relationship with curiosity, beginning with the Son of God Himself receiving flack throughout His earthly ministry from the anti-questioning party in power at that time.  Casey Tygrett invites Jesus’ present-day followers back into the spiritual practice of Becoming Curious, beckoning readers into the tension that holds opposing concepts in a space that waits for answers from all the multitude of possibilities.

Risk and Tension

Jesus, the “whole and beautiful,” jumped into the mess of a broken-down world and created tension galore, so it should not surprise us when our own risky ponderings lead us into uncomfortable territory.  Jesus’ twelve “learners” were continually yanked into a right understanding of all they did not know by Jesus’ search-light words:

“What do you want me to do for you?”  

  • Posed to James and John (Mark 10:35,36) when they were gunning for the corner office;
  • Posed to Bartimaeus (Mark 10:47-52) the blind beggar who made a ruckus and sought healing.

It’s startling to see the question posed in both settings (Had you noticed it before?  I hadn’t.), but regardless of their initial intent in coming to Jesus, His unexpected question certainly let them know that they were in for more than they had expected.

The Critical Questions

Throughout the book, Casey Tygrett repeatedly argues for the utter necessity of curiosity for our spiritual formation.  When Jesus probed the disciples (Mark 16:15) for their interpretation of His identity, it was certainly not because He was unclear on this point.  The truth for 1st-century and for 21st-century learners is that our answer to the question “Who do you say that I am?” defines the core of who we believe ourselves to be.

“What practices, habits, attitudes, and realities are now possible because he is who he is, and therefore I can be the same?”

With so many cultural — and, face it, “religious” — influences seeking to name us against our will, a right understanding of our identity in Christ allows us to cling to our “real, God-engraved name.”

Hearing the Why

Pressing into a spiritual practice of asking questions holds the door open for those in the following life to move beyond the basics of what and how questions and to live our way into the world of why.  It’s our motives that shape who we are, and rather than pasting a list of legal requirements to our exterior selves, Jesus challenges believers in the practice of becoming:
Become the kind of person who can forgive beyond the seventy time seven.
Become a lover of the neighbors who act in an unworthy and annoying way.

Failure as Spiritual Formation

Curious living extends two challenges in the uncomfortable realm of failure:

  1.  Learn to understand and embrace our failures as part of who we are;
  2. Repent of our old ways of seeing failure.

In His recorded dealings with the failure of biblical characters, God goes on record as One who meets murderers and cheaters and weaklings of all types with grace and forgiveness.  What if part of the “all things” in Romans 8:28 that God promises to use for our good and for the fulfillment of His holy purposes includes (gulp) our failures?

Rituals, Routines, and Disciplines as Part of the Curious Life

Again, the important question in the following life is “Why?”  If I’m doing something because I want to earn favor with God, or because I think I can control some outcome in my life by it, then it’s likely that a ritual or routine has become my master.  God has ordained certain practices of godliness because He wants “to cut thick neural pathways in our minds that allow wisdom to flow continually.”  We show up in front of an open Bible each day, not because it’s a lucky rabbit’s foot and “my day always goes better if I start with Scripture” like a multi-vitamin, but because this is the path of formation that makes me into the kind of person who is able to discern the voice of God from all the screaming banshees inside my head.

Casey invites readers to keep a Questions Journal as they read and provides prompts at the end of each chapter that prime the pump.  I was surprised at what came bubbling to the surface as I scribbled questions into my notes, and I invite you to start reading Jesus’ biblical questions with a bit more involvement.  What if you were face to face with Him over coffee, and He asked, “What do you want me to do for you?”  What comes to mind first?

As we persist in our asking and in our listening, may we find that our questions become bolder and that we begin searching to know Him rather than merely to know about Him.  The spiritual practice of becoming curious is God’s gift to His people, and He has equipped our souls to take the shape of an explorer into the deep things that will change our way of seeing the world.  Are we curious enough to follow Him there?

This book was provided by the IVP Books, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

Be watching for details about an upcoming reading group that invites you to read (or re-read!) and discuss Wendell Berry’s classic work of literary fiction, Jayber Crow.  The discussion will begin on Thursday, September 7th.  A flawed and curmudgeonly bachelor barber, Jayber’s homely wisdom has inspired me to think more deeply about what I believe.  Here’s a thought from his ramblings on prayer:

“I prayed the terrible prayer: ‘Thy will be done.’ Having so prayed, I prayed for strength.”

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Sacred Ordinary/Ordinary Sacred

Annie Dillard has (famously) said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”  This is a cautionary saying for those of us who live our days as the sandwich-makers, the sock sorters, and the finders of misplaced library books.  Therefore, Liturgy of the Ordinary has landed upon my reading list like a benediction, for in Tish Harrison Warren’s words, I hear the husky contralto sound track of Peggy Lee’s musical question “Is That All There Is?” Thanks be to God, Tish arrives at a resounding “No!”  The daily, mundane tasks that comprise civilization and self-maintenance on this planet are clearly not “all there is.”  On the contrary, they are shot through with the sacred — even all the repetitive and seemingly Sisyphean tasks that, while admittedly are sacrificial, seem hardly to be sacramental.

Liturgy of the Ordinary pushes back against the dualism that differentiates between answering emails and writing sermons, between talking theology over coffee and talking science fair project over milk and cookies because, for believers, ministry and everyday life are “intrinsically part of one another,” (p. 89).

Trish celebrates the reality that the spiritual disciplines that sustain the following life are quiet, reflective, and homely.  The trappings of devotion, even the elements of the Eucharist, can be found in any North American kitchen, and the inhale and exhale of communion with God around a verse of Scripture can, literally, be done with one’s eyes closed.

Since liturgy is, by definition, “the work of the people,” the faithful have been commissioned to do whatever is needful in the name of Christ.  Tish’s liberating thesis works itself out in the unfolding of the ordinary day of a wife, mum, ministry professional, and friend, a woman who chafes against the routine, who longs for a good night’s sleep, and who delights in the simple beauty of a vanilla steamer alongside a great novel.

The Glory of the Embodied Life

When we wake, no matter how  we wake (instantly bolt upright or groping toward consciousness), we begin our day beloved by God, and the staggering truth is that nothing we do in the course of each day will either magnify or diminish that standing.  Beginning each new day echoes that “first gleam of dawn” which characterizes “the path of the righteous” (Proverbs 4:18) at the outset of the Christian life.

Careening toward the age when it takes twice as long in front of a mirror to look half as good, it is a joyful thing to be reminded that “what we do with our bodies and what we do with our souls are always entwined,” (p. 39).  In taking on flesh, Christ decimated the false notion that the body is an evil burden and not worthy of respectful treatment and conscientious care. 

“Because of the embodied work of Jesus, my body is destined for redemption and for eternal worship – for eternal skipping and jumping and twirling and hand raising and kneeling and dancing and singing and chewing and tasting,” (p. 48).

capture

Tish Harrison Warren writes of the believer’s “everyday work of shalom”; of the “third way” in which we are neither Mary nor Martha, but are delighted to find our worship and our work as one; of the ministry of friendship, the sacrament of coffee, as well as the gift of rest.

I hope that you will click on over to Englewood Review of Books to finish reading my thoughts on this remarkable book in which Tish draws a clear line of connection between the activities of her daily routine and the pursuit of holiness.

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This book was provided by IVP Books, an imprint of InterVarsity Press,  in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Silence and Beauty

C.S. Lewis described our world as “the Kingdom of Noise,” and he composed a psalm in the praise of  noise from the pen of Senior Tempter, Screwtape, in his letter to a young apprentice. By contrast, artist Makoto Fujimura praises the beauty of silence particularly in the context of Japanese culture.  “Perhaps in no other culture is a single word so relevant as silence is to Japan.  In Japan, silence is beauty and beauty is silent.”

In his analysis of Shusako Endo’s global best-seller, Silence, Fujimura deals with the book’s uneasy questions about the  nature of suffering,  faith, betrayal, and service to a God who, at times, chooses to remain silent.  Set in the 17th century during a period of intense persecution of Christians, Silence traces the ministry of Father Sebastian Rodrigues, a Portuguese priest who traveled to Japan to investigate rumors that a senior missionary had apostatized under torture.

As a bicultural Japanese American, Makoto Fujimura is uniquely positioned to ponder Endo’s assertion that Christianity is ill-suited to take root in the “mud swamp” of Japan — especially since this is where his own faith journey began.   As an artist who paints using layers of metal and natural pigments to create visual beauty, he is also uniquely qualified to probe the layers of meaning in Endo’s narrative arc.

It would be ideal to read Silence and Beauty in concert with Endo’s novel, but even with a year between my reading of the two books, I found that revisiting the fictional work through Fujimura’s eyes reawakened and deepened my interaction with and appreciation for Silence as a reflection on present-day culture:

  1.  A major theme that recurs throughout Endo’s  Silence, is the trampling of the fumi-e: an icon of Christ which Japanese Christians were forced to step on to show their rejection of the faith.  Silence and Beauty expands on the theme, helping the reader to see that even those of us who are free to do otherwise may find ourselves trampling God and the people most dear to us.   Father Rodrigues’s definition of sin helps me to see Fujimura’s point:

“Sin is for one man to walk brutally over the life of another – to be quite oblivious of the wounds he has left behind.”

2.  Fujimura and Endo both ponder the nature of faithfulness.  Am I faithful to Christ if I am publicly disgraced, and yet privately effective in prayer, ministry and relationships? Am I more faithful to Christ if I have a recognized role in society as His representative, but privately have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing to help the people around me? Endo’s Silence was an agonizing read for me with Rodrigues lamenting the silence of God in his own experience while trying to be a spiritual leader in a cultural context that was completely alien to him — all the while with the threat of torture or imprisonment hanging over him.

Of course, I wanted him to come through the testing with triumph and go on to lead a Great Awakening among the Japanese because of his heroic faith. That’s not how it ended, and I’m still trying to reconcile this.

3.  A further theme of Silence and Beauty is the process of making peace with ambiguity.  It is the tendency of Christians (particularly Western Christians) to draw a hard line between faith and doubt — a faith-is-good-doubt-is-bad- dichotomy.  Makoto underlines Endo’s exposé of this flawed logic for, “it does not express faith in God but instead a faith in clarity and, . . . ‘our lust for certainty.'”

4.  As Endo reached back in history to the story of the apostates of the 17th century, Fujimura picks up the thread and carries it forward to his Ground Zero experience on September 11, 2001 with his studio a few blocks away from the World Trade Center.  Just as the fumi-e represents all of our betrayals and our failures of faith, Father Rodrigues’s intense suffering and wrestling with God represents for us all of our personal Ground Zero realities.  Silence and Beauty offers the redemptive truth that it is only through “resilient prayer” and forgiveness that we move through and eventually beyond our trauma.  In the end, then, it is only the Gospel that will heal and transform a heart — or a nation.

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This book was provided by IVP Books, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.