Creating Space for Play and Curiosity

Now that it’s summer, the girls and I are in the car a lot together. I drive a Honda Civic, meaning that we’re in close proximity for all music choices and conversation. Recently, I’ve been reminded of what a linguistically fun season we’re in.

Elle loves separating words by syllable and then finding other words that rhyme with those syllables. Most of her rhymes are nonsense words but I love listening to how she dissects and reassembles language. I had forgotten how fun it was to hear kids puzzle out words and language.

Bea adds to our conversation by asking about the etymology of words and phrases we’re using. We wonder why we used certain words in certain ways and why some letters are pronounced differently, depending on the word’s origin. We talk about phrases and where they come from and how they’ve changed.

These conversations aren’t our norm but about once a week or so, we’ll dive into language and it’s been such a good reminder for me about the shifting nature of our communication.

This makes me especially happy because I love thinking and learning about the origins of language. Perhaps that’s why my girls love picking apart words – I happily jump into the conversation, just as curious as they are. I find the history of language fascinating and love that we’re able to reframe words and phrases every few decades or centuries.

I’ve been slowly working my way through Womanist Midrash by Dr. Wilda Gafney. She takes stories of women from the Old Testament and digs into the words and language surrounding them. Using what she calls her “sanctified imagination,” she adds to the story, creating robust narratives around forgotten and abused women. She breaks down the ancient Hebrew words and phrases and helps the reader understand the context and nuance.

Womanist Midrash is the most recent part of my journey in understanding the fluidity of language and belief. If our modern English language can ebb and change as quickly as it does, it’s no wonder there’s such mystery surrounding the language of the Bible. Yes, scholars study and understand the ancient text in its rightful context but for this lay-reader, I’m amazed at all I don’t know about what the Bible is saying, simply through the language and translations given.

A friend and I were recently talking about how we reconcile faith and politics and law. We were talking about specific current events but I think our conversation could be expanded to any sort of Biblical grappling. How do we understand what the Bible was actually saying, especially when we don’t know the language and context fully?

Our conversation made me think of the car rides with my girls, of breaking apart words and thinking about each part, in context and out of context. It made me think about the ways in which rhyming nonsense words helps build a linguistic foundation of curiosity and play which will eventually lead to fluent literacy. For now, my girls love having fun with language and giving them space to figure it out helps me remember the process rather than the outcome.

I think that’s what I’m learning about faith, too. It’s about dissecting and puzzling. Sometimes it’s about making up nonsense rhymes as I work through certain parts. Sometimes it’s turning to the experts and diving into what we do actually know about the language and culture. Either way, I’m leaning into the process. I don’t know where my outcomes will be in ten or fifty years – or maybe I’ll never know.

Maybe that’s the point. Maybe there’s enough ambiguity and space to allow for the play and curiosity. Maybe that’s what faith is all about – not necessarily finding the answers but enjoying the process of puzzling.

How do you infuse curiosity and play into your faith?

Finding Truth Close to Home

Last week I had an unexpected afternoon to myself. I ate a solitary lunch and was looking at my to-do list. It was filled with everything from cleaning and household tasks to writing and more creative endeavors. But all of those things made me feel antsy and I knew that I wouldn’t be productive. I needed to get out.

Muslin Concepts

So, I headed to the Denver Art Museum for the Christian Dior exhibit. As I stepped into the first room, my breath caught. The beauty of Dior’s earliest collection literally made me stop. I had forgotten how incredible it is to see haute couture up close. The details, the quality, the way the fabric hangs is absolutely stunning.

After wandering for an hour or so, I felt refreshed and energized. I thought about my to-do list and all the things that would eventually get done. I so often hear that writing is about sitting down and doing the work; That often the muse doesn’t show up and yet we still need to be ready. And while I totally agree with this, I also need to remember that without filling my life with beauty and new experiences, the muse has very little to draw upon.

I recently finished Dani Shapiro’s memoir, Devotion. The book is about Shapiro’s spiritual journey and a lot of it draws on her yoga practice. She writes about attending workshops and retreats around her home base of Connecticut. At one point, she is offered an opportunity to travel to India to study at an ashram there. The chance to go practice in the land of yoga’s origins tempts her. Honestly, even without a serious yoga practice, I’d imagine a trip to a new culture would be tempting to most of us. Shapiro turns down the opportunity and offers a reflection that has stayed with me.

Truths found out there don’t travel well.

Dani Shapiro, Devotion, pg 152

What she means is that if we can’t learn new truths at home, we aren’t ready to learn new truths. Traveling abroad won’t tell you what you can’t hear at home.

She’s not discounting travel or the beauty of learning from cultures outside our own norms. What she is saying is that we can’t depend on leaving home for a life-changing experience. If we are unable to be changed at home, we cannot expect to be changed abroad.

I needed to hear this. I’ve been feeling in a creative slump lately and it’s so easy to think that if only I could fill my world with a trip or an exotic experience then I would have material to spark creativity. I imagine how lovely it would be to walk the streets of Paris or Florence, surrounded by beautiful architecture where the very presence of greatness inspires so many of us. Or maybe a trip somewhere completely new like Peru or Palestine will spark that newness that is so exhilarating.

And while I will always feel invigorated by travel and exploration, I’m learning that the lessons I need to learn are right here. Now, a break in routine is often necessary to help us see those lessons. Shapiro didn’t limit her yoga practice to living room videos – she attended retreats and pushed her limits. When I was feeling overwhelmed by the routines of my small world, a visit to an exhibit twenty minutes away transported me to another place and time.

What I’m trying to remember is that intentionality starts at home. Where can I look to disrupt my routine? Maybe it’s a walk at a new park. Maybe it’s seeking out art exhibits that help me expand my horizons. Maybe it’s reading a challenging book in a different environment, rather than in my own living room. How am I holding both sacred – the need for new and the recognition that I can learn from where I am?

As January comes to a close and we enter February – perhaps the longest month of the year – I hope to keep this at the forefront of my thoughts. All the truths I need are close to home, right where I need them most.

How do you mix up your routine? What are some truths you’ve found right at home?

Are you signed up from my newsletter, The Compost Heap? It’s been a couple months since I’ve sent one out and I’m trying to get back in the practice. It’s a short letter with a thought, a book recommendation, and some other thing or two that has been interesting lately. You can sign up here: The Compost Heap.

The Blessing of Curiosity

When I was in Nepal, some friends came to visit and we decided to take an airplane flight around Mt. Everest. I wasn’t much of a hiker then, so even trekking to Base Camp didn’t hold much of an appeal. But I knew I wanted to see the highest peak in the world.

IMG_1243The flight was incredible. We were in a tiny plane and my friend, who once held the title of Navigator of Air Force One turned a blind eye to all of the FAA code violations. But, when we saw Everest through the windows, it was breathtaking.

I’ve always been someone who’s held a healthy reverence for Nature. I’ll be the first to turn around if a thunderstorm threatens us above tree line; I prefer to hike with buddies; I’ve never set out to push the limits or conquer a mountain or a trail. I feel like the vast majority of the time man goes up against nature, nature will win.

When Frank and I were talking about “walking humbly with God,” he said hiking immediately came to mine. The vast magnificence of nature keeps him humble. (Though, I challenge you to have a discussion about life with Frank that doesn’t somehow circle back to hiking and/or nature…)

There is something humbling about nature and all that we don’t know. When I’m on a trail or in the Grand Tetons, I’m in awe of how huge our world is. And then I read about new discoveries, deep in the ocean and am reminded even more so that we don’t know a whole lot about this earth. If I’m really ready to be awed, I’ll start to think about the scope of our small planet in a vast universe….

When I think about my friend’s advice to start reading the Bible deeply, one book stretched over many months, it reminds me of how vast this story is. I suppose that’s how we have hundreds of years of theology and graduate degrees uncovering all that we don’t know.

Her advice also reminded me to think about the humbling experience of walking through nature. I would never presume that I was conquering a trail or hiking a mountain for the sake of crossing it off my list. In some ways, that’s how reading the Bible in a year felt – like an accomplishment to cross off a list.

What if I approached my faith and study of that faith with the same humbleness I approach nature? What if I knew I was learning for the sake of asking more questions, rather than finding answers? How would that change my relationship with God?

I wonder how this would change my relationship with my community? If I went into conversations for the sake of finding out more and more, rather than knowing a story?

I’ve been reading more about God’s curious nature. In Jan Richardson’s In the Sanctuary of Women, she reframes the story of Eve through the lens of curiosity. For so long, we’ve viewed this character trait as the root of our sinful nature. What if this is an expression of the glory of God? How would we approach life and faith differently if we viewed curiosity as a blessing rather than a curse?

Walking humbly doesn’t come naturally to me. I want to know and to check off the knowledge boxes. But humbleness is grounding myself in the unknown and breathing in the slow walk of discovery.

What’s your view of curiosity – is it a blessing or a curse? How do you approach curiosity in your faith journey?

BackyardThis post is Day 25 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the Backyard Justice. You can find the entire series over at my Backyard Justice page.

Holy Curiosity

Cara Meredith is hosting a series this year on Holy Curiosity. Since I’m in the midst of this nonstop curiosity-filled season, I was inspired to reflect on my own experience with the holiness of exploration. And the need to remember my own curiosity needs to be nourished.

Here’s an excerpt, but head over to Cara’s to read the whole post.

IMG_9935.jpgI’ve always been a curious person. When I was young and had a question, my dad would point me in the direction of his out-of-date set of encyclopedias. Sometimes my question was answered, but more often, I would get sucked into reading about other places and ideas and histories.

As a teacher, I was surrounded by curiosity and in charge of facilitating it in a meaningful way. My days were spent creating activities and lessons that guided my students toward more questions and ideas. I still made time for my own curiosity, through books and travel and cultural events.

And then I became a mom. Everyone knows kids are curious – google it and you’ll find quotes from Walt Disney and Madeleine L’Engle to Eleanor Roosevelt and Albert Einstein about the incredible curiosity of children. Mine are no exception – my three year old explores and questions her world constantly.

As my daughter became more active and more curious, I found myself outsourcing my own curiosity. I was surrounded and enthralled by Bea’s discoveries – who has time to add to that full day? I continued to read and my taste turned more and more toward nonfiction – a way to continue learning, but I didn’t really allow time for my own curiosities. I pushed them into the margins and told myself that one day I’d have time for my own interests again. Today is the day to focus on my kids; to build their own discoveries; to cherish these quickly passing moments.

I’m sure you know where this is going. Outsourcing curiosity is not sustainable or healthy.

Head over to Cara’s to find out what I discovered by recognizing my own need to pursue curiosity. And, check out the rest of Cara’s guest bloggers. There are some wonderful reflections on our need for being curious!