Even though I grew up on a farm in Indiana and spent a great deal of time outside, I would not say I am as attuned to nature as one might expect. In some ways it is a little disappointing to realize this and admit it. Of course when I was outside, I was surely aware of the weather. If it is raining, you don’t need a very high IQ to know it is raining! Awareness of the weather, however, does not mean you are generally aware of nature.
Every time I come back to Annie Dillard’s great book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, I am reminded of my off-and-on relationship with nature. I realize again how much I miss on a walk across campus. I lament at how unconscious I apparently am so much of the time. At one level, this is sad because it means I am capable of so much more. At another level, it is funny. It is funny because I sometimes think I am fairly aware and, then, realize perhaps I am not as aware as I think I am. Another good opportunity for some humility! Whenever I have the opportunity for some humility, at least I am on a spiritual track again.
Near the end of a chapter called, “Spring,” Dillard quotes Einstein. I have never double-checked the quotation, so I hope he said it. If he did not, then whoever said it has a good idea. “Never lose a holy curiosity,” said Einstein. Clearly, the key word here is “curiosity.” Let’s look at this idea and see how it fits within spirituality.
If you were to look up that word in a dictionary, you would find that curiosity means a desire to know something or to find out something. A curious person is an inquisitive person. I would like to think that most people are curious to an extent. If we watch children, they seem pretty curious by nature. The will explore almost anything. Little ones will put anything in their mouths! Maybe that is when we begin to lose our curiosity, namely, when we outgrow the desire to put things in our mouths!
I think it is ok if we literally get over putting things in our mouths. But if we see it figuratively, we need to be careful not to lose our taste for exploration. Maybe this is the clue to what Einstein means. If we lose our willingness to explore, then we have become settlers. We have settled for what already is. We declare in our own way that we are ok with the routine and the given.
That is not bad. Typically, there is nothing wrong with the given and our routine. More than most people, perhaps, I am a person who values routine. But if I settle for the routine as all there is, then I have lost something important in my life. I have lost the possibility for the novel---the new. I have lost the chance for the different. There is nothing wrong with sameness---I value that. But there is more; there is always difference.
Curiosity is a quest. It is an inquisitiveness for the novel and the different. It is a free choice. Voluntarily my curiosity opens me to a world that is more interesting, more complex, more beguiling that I ever imagined. I hope I never get to the place where I say, “I don’t care.” If I do, I probably have admitted that I am finished growing as a human being. I think we were created for growth. Curiosity is the divine implanted grow impulse.
Having said that, I realize I have just introduced the opening to talk about the adjective Einstein used, namely, “holy.” “Never lose a holy curiosity,” he said. I like the way he puts it. I can understand his use of “holy” in a couple ways. I have already indicated one way we can understand “holy curiosity.” This holy curiosity is the divinely implanted impulse to grow and deepen as human beings. I have already indicated that I could be much more attentive when I am in nature. I could let nature teach me so much more about myself and about my God, the Creator of this amazing world and the unfathomable universes. To settle for my routine and the given in my life is sadly to settle for so little. I have a God to discover and I too often settle for my own little world and my own sorry self.
The other way we can understand “holy curiosity” is to see our curiosity to be wired to desire to know God. We are naturally inquisitive for the Divine. We would be idiots to assume that we are the center of the universe. Any sane person knows that the egocentric person has it all wrong. The trouble is, being egocentric often feels so good---so “god-like!” Again, we would be idiots to set ourselves up as gods and not see the idolatry in doing so!
Our holy curiosity is designed to not fall into temptation, but deliver us to the doorstep of God Itself. We might find that doorstop in the details and intricacies of nature. We might find ourselves approaching the heart of God when we go deep within and find our own hearts. Holy curiosity leads us both without---into the big world out there filled with amazing things. And it leads us deep within---where in the words of a revered Quaker, we find “an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul.” It is there that the holy curiosity delivers us into Holiness Itself.