Updated: Sep 15, 2020
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 hyped.
When someone begins a new faith tradition, we say they take a "leap of faith." The new practitioner is invited to trust the "magical thinking" part of the brain and to press into their felt experience. 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, 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 finds its roots 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. (To this day, you can find this event as part of my personal bio.)
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.
From the the Judeo-Christian perspective, a spirit of curiosity shifts the question of spiritual growth from "What do I need to do to get closer to God?" to "What gift has the Holy Spirit brought me today?" If it sounds self-serving, it's because it is. It's a side effect of following a God with the heart of a servant.
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. Dare I quote Dumbledore, "Of course it is happening inside your head...but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?" 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 God apparently likes to do (Gen. 3:8, Lk. 24:13-35). The goal isn't necessarily to accomplish some incredible purpose, but simply to be together and to enjoy each other and the 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