A blog post by Kate Reuer Welton
"I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."
Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903
in Letters to a Young Poet
Somewhere between Eve’s curiosity in the garden being cast as the root of sin in the world, the steady popularization of “black and white” theology, and the need for some Christian leaders to be the ones holding all the answers, many young adults (and Christians in general) have internalized the notion that curiosity about God is bad. As someone in her thirties, I am friends with plenty of people who left the church in their late teens and early twenties because leaders in the church dismissed, judged, or outright condemned their questions about God. These friends of mine couldn’t believe in a God who wouldn’t engage with them. And so they walked away from the church, from religion, and from God.
As I sit with college students on the campus of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, the University’s motto, “Driven to Discover,” is everywhere. It’s instilled in their lab research and their service learning work. It shows up in their post-colonial theory classes, freshman seminars, and work in the Robotics Club. And it’s on a lot of t-shirts. Students are encouraged to ask questions, to dismantle assumptions, to be creative and innovative in their course work, and to imagine how these “discoveries” might contribute to a better world someday.
If forced to choose, which path would you take?
This is why, in our leadership training, bible studies, and preaching, we at Lutheran Campus Ministry insist young adults embrace curiosity as a spiritual practice.
Curiosity, I am convinced, is an instrumental faith practice that is not only life giving, but is also essential for the future of the church.
Curiosity gives permission to engage with God, asking questions about one’s faith and life. It situates young adults with the patriarch Jacob, setting up camp by the Jabbok River, and wrestling as if their life depended on it. For many of the students I work with, this is the first time they’ve been encouraged to ask questions. When they discover this is a possibility, there is often a deluge of questions that have been building for months or even years.
Curiosity encourages openness and attention to what God might be doing in the world. It grants permission for each person to see the face of Christ in their neighbor, in creation, and in the mundane stretches of everyday life. As these discoveries are shared in community, young adults also begin to discover the art of discernment. As these discoveries are articulated, it democratizes God’s story and makes it accessible in the language of the people who are experiencing it. The end product is an evangelism indigenous to the communities in which each of these young adults studies, works, and plays.
Curiosity demands an engagement that necessitates integrating one’s faith with one’s lived experience. This holistic way of being is craved by the young adults with whom I work. It is a challenging way to live, no doubt, but it is also the only way many of them can live.
The church would do well, by its entire body, to create spaces which make way for curiosity. Some of this is the intense, exhausting wrestling with God. But curiosity doesn’t necessitate exhaustion. Instead, it’s a posture towards God and the world which anticipates the Holy Spirit is up to something that we all have yet to discover. It makes way for a fresh articulation of God’s boundless love for the world and equips all people, young and old alike, to do just that.
For additional insight on this topic, check out a blog from a student leader about curiosity, LCM, and her time in the Holy Land at this site.
Kate Reuer Welton grew up in South Dakota and settled back in Minneapolis after completing a Master of Divinity degree at Harvard Divinity School. Kate was called to serve as Lutheran Campus Pastor at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities three and a half years ago. She’s worked as a community organizer with Lutheran Social Service, assisted at a refugee camp in Kenya, and been a history teacher at Native Arts High School here in Minneapolis. Kate is married to Jim and loves cooking with vegetables from the farmers market, as well as hiking and backpacking in the great outdoors. Her approach to the Christian life? “Awe, wonder and curiosity.”
For more information on Lutheran Campus Ministry, visit www.umnlutheran.org