Right after I finished seminary, I, like most seminary grads, was in a harried state. I had spent the last couple years routinely facing my greatest struggles with God, theology, and life itself head-on, and I was spent. I felt like a toddler who had finally cried herself out and was ready for a nap.
I had lived in the student apartments throughout my time at seminary, and I was preparing to move into an apartment across town. This apartment had a balcony. It was getting warmer out. I was amped.
When someone begins a new faith tradition, we say they take a "leap of faith." Similarly, in order to make any progress with any line of thought, there have to be first principles to start with. In order to begin a spiritual practice, there has to be some kind of "leap" to the first principles of belief. (This isn't to say that joining an organized religion is necessary to start a spiritual practice. First principles of spiritual practice can simply be "I Feel Good After I Run.")
In order to establish first principles, a spirit of curiosity is necessary. The openness to think, What if I chewed on this glimmer of inclination? It's the glimmer that leads Muhammad into the cave, the Buddha to the bodhi tree, Jesus into the desert, Moses back to Egypt.
A "leap of faith"is hardly a one-time event. The willingness to continuously follow these "glimmers" is the very substance of spiritual growth. It's telling that we refer to people exploring faith traditions as "seekers," because to be a seeker is to have curiosity. Throughout the lifetime of our spiritual journeys, we are constantly invited to pick up on spiritual inclinations and, as seekers, choose to press in.
The virtue of openness and willingness to press into spiritual inclinations is the absolute heartbeat of spiritual growth.
I like to call this virtue "spiritual curiosity."
Spiritual curiosity is richly celebrated in the Ignatian tradition. Ignatius emphasized the importance of simply noticing what comes to mind in moments of prayer, lectio divina, meditation, and other spiritual exercises. By noticing the thoughts that surface, we may then press into them more deeply. We can follow the breadcrumb trail left by the Divine to see what goodies she/he/they have for us. It's like a game. It is a game.
This was the game I was playing with God post-seminary. For the foreseeable future, my only spiritual inclination was to sit on my balcony. And that I did. I spent the summer soaking in sunshine and waiting for further instructions.
This is what I love about spiritual curiosity:
The core of spiritual curiosity is delight. On occasion the seeker receives an invitation to do something sacrificial, but even then the end result is usually wisdom gained or increased divine intimacy. But for today, let's focus on the fun stuff.
A spirit of curiosity shifts the question of spiritual growth from "What do I need to do to grow spiritually?" to "What gift has my spirituality brought me today?"
2. Anyone can do it.
The beauty of spiritual curiosity is that anyone at any point in spiritual journey can practice it, and you can go as big or as little as you want. Sometimes my spiritual inclination is literally just to light a candle to enjoy as I get ready for bed. Sometimes it's to start a spiritual direction private practice.
Another benefit of spiritual curiosity is that it takes the pressure off. The noise of whether or not the inclination is "from God" or "just in my head" doesn't apply. When we follow spiritual inclinations with curiosity, it doesn't matter whether we've received a Divine Vision or Calling™. Part of the exploration is seeing what this idea will lead you to—and whether not it's a good idea. But once again, for now, let's focus on neutral-to-positive inclinations.
Let's say you feel led to go for a walk. It may not be because you're going to stumble across an abandoned baby that you'll have to rescue. It could just be because walks are nice. And having a nice walk is something that the God of certain traditions apparently like to do (Gen. 3:8, Lk. 24:13-35). The goal isn't necessarily to accomplish some incredible purpose, but simply to enjoy yourself and the beings and things around you. (And that, friends, is what I think this whole universe is for in the first place.)
While spiritual journey naturally looks different for everyone, the way forward is always propelled by an openness to something new, something deeper, something greater, something beyond. In order to cultivate a spiritual life that is fit to grow, the muscles of openness and curiosity have to be exercised.
See what curiosity we're chasing at Fratres Dei.
February 25, 2019 | Denver, Colorado