JP’s Corner: On Cultivating Curiosity

Today I was pondering something that I’ve pondered for a while: how to teach people things that have made such a deep and meaningful impact in my life. I’m referring primarily to the journey back to Catholicism Lorelei and I somewhat recently made that she has so beautifully expounded on over many posts, but specifically in “On Hating the Catholic Church.” As I say to people, I fell in love with Jesus in the Protestant Church and found him in his fullest in Catholicism.

So what did I do after finding Jesus in his fullest? Obviously, for those who know me well, I kept this to myself and never mentioned it unless asked. Ha! Actually, what I really did was I started talking people’s ears off.

Theology finally made sense to me. After seven years of post-graduate scientific study where I learned more than I ever imagined possible about cells and molecules, I finally could rest assured that God not only exists but that he gave us a Church with a logically consistent set of doctrines and a logically consistent theology. It’s hard to describe how exciting this was, and still is, to me. I am a man of logic by profession. I make a living by logic. Nature works a certain way, therefore if I know what nature does in such and such a situation, I can make a prediction about a particular aspect I don’t yet know about and, granting nature will behave the same way again, I can learn something new about God’s creation. Logic. It’s the name of my game, as it is many other people’s too, not just biomedical scientists.

So, having gone through a few years of what didn’t quite feel like logically consistent theology, I routinely struggled with not being able to fully share my faith. I didn’t really even fully have a faith… that is until it finally made sense. And when it made sense, and when I realized that Jesus is to be found in his fullest possible form at the alter at each Catholic Mass, I first went straight to the alter to meet him there, and then I went about telling everyone I possibly could that they could find him there too! And everyone I told immediately followed me right to the alter the very next daily Mass we could find!

Actually…..No again. Why? Wasn’t my enthusiasm infectious? It seemed like people wanted to hear what I had to say. It seemed like they genuinely liked being around me to see this new-found enthusiasm. And I simply assumed all they needed to share in my enthusiasm was my explanation of what made me so enthusiastic to begin with.

And that is where the pondering starts. Why don’t people respond to my explanations of what is so exciting to me with the same excitement I have?

“People don’t care about answers to questions they are not asking.” I don’t know who to attribute this quote to specifically, except to say I’ve heard it from multiple sources in the Catholic Church. It makes sense. It makes sense in my life, and I’m sure in yours too. You ever listen to NPR and wonder how this stuff could be interesting to anyone? Who wants to know about this? Why would I spend an hour of my life learning about that? … But then comes a time in your life, if you’re like me, when you started to get curious about things and all of a sudden NPR is your favorite radio station! What changed? Not the information, but the simple fact that I got curious.

Today I realize that my job as an evangelist and as a father is not primarily to provide the answers but to learn how to teach people to want to learn, to cultivate curiosity. Then, and only then – when people finally really want to know “JP, why do you love the Catholic faith so much, and do you think I could find Jesus there too?” – then the answer I give might cause the effect it did in me.

The funny part about this is that immediately after I came to this conclusion today – as I was driving in slow moving Chicago traffic – I pulled up next to a bus with an advertisement on the side marketing the exact thing I was thinking! If it didn’t say this exactly, it certainly intimated it: “Cultivate Curiosity.” And then it showed a picture of a student.

You see, cultivating curiosity is far more beneficial than ramming facts and knowledge into people’s brains. Parents, let us cultivate curiosity in our children. Don’t fear, they have what it takes to learn how to learn. But the deep seeded burning flame to want to learn, that is a harder thing to instill. Let us start now.

Fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, let us continue to cultivate our own curiosity. I encourage all of us to humble ourselves and admit that there is far more to learn about God and our relationship with Him than we can hope to learn in a life-time. Disagree? Can the created being be greater than the creator?

Let us cultivate our own curiosity so that there is never a dull day in our lives. Seriously, I firmly believe there is nothing boring in our life. If you are at a point where that is true, I encourage you to learn about something new. Start to see how it’s all connected. There is crazy stuff to learn about the thread of material in your carpet. Have you asked why it is there in the first place? Have you asked why doesn’t it vanish into thin air? Have you asked what holds it together?

When I started to learn the science behind the answers to these questions – which include atomic and even subatomic physics – I immediately began to appreciate how vast God is. And when I started to appreciate how vast God is, I then started to appreciate how RADICAL it is that HE, the one whom the universe is not big enough to contain, confined himself to becoming a human being!

And just like each one of us, He started his humanity as a single fertilized egg, made up of a quantifiable set of proteins, nucleic acid, metabolites, etc.

Cultivate curiosity.

And when you finally ask yourself why I love Catholicism so much, please ask me! I’m happy to answer.

-JP

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