Friendship, listening, and empathy: A Prayer GuideTwo Hands: Grief and Gratitude in the Christian LifeSabbath Keeping FastingA Renewed SpiritualityNurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationPersonality Type in CongregationsPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Friendship, loneliness, and prayer: Praying for “holy curiosity”

Lynne Baab • Wednesday December 27 2023

Friendship, loneliness, and prayer: Praying for “holy curiosity”

As we pray about growing in the ability to listen, a helpful and thought-provoking term is “holy curiosity.” Albert Einstein coined that phrase in the 1940s to describe the freedom of inquiry he considered to be important in science education. [1] People of faith have adopted this phrase because it evokes so much about how to connect with others. In order to meet the needs of people we care about, we must be curious about those needs. In order to care for others wisely and well, we need to be curious about the ways to do it most effectively and in forms that empower the recipient. Our curiosity needs to have a holy quality, centered in God’s gentle and insightful love.

Curiosity can take two forms. One version is nosy and prying, which comes across as invasive. That kind of curiosity arises out of the listener’s need to know all the details about a person’s situation, perhaps so the listener can gossip with others about it or appear to be knowledgeable in other settings. A more subtle form of invasive curiosity arises when we feel proud of our listening abilities, so we draw people out to demonstrate our listening skills and feel good about ourselves. Any self-focused listening can slide into being nosy and prying. In contrast, holy curiosity is grounded in God’s pure and caring voice that calls each of us “Beloved.”

Two Christian books use Einstein’s phrase in their title in ways that can inform our listening. Pastor and blogger Winn Collier’s book, Holy Curiosity: Encountering Jesus’ Provocative Questions, focuses on the way Jesus used questions. Collier argues that Jesus often refused to give people direct and detailed answers. Instead, he asked questions that proved to be life-changing. Jesus’ loving and provocative interactions with people, described in the four Gospels, have been significant models for me as I have tried to grow as a listener. Reading the Gospels with an eye to Jesus the communicator — the listener, question asker, and teacher — is instructive in many ways, as Collier advises and as I have experienced. We can pray to learn from Jesus in the area of listening.

Psychology professor Amy Hollingsworth wrote a book on creativity entitled Holy Curiosity: Cultivating the Creative Spirit in Everyday Life. Hollingsworth believes creativity is impossible without a kind of holy curiosity, including listening to our own lives to see the patterns and possibilities. Sometimes, people of faith have an innate aversion to paying attention to our own lives because such an endeavor seems self-absorbed. If we want to listen with empathy, we need to apply holy curiosity to ourselves. Engaging with our own emotions of sadness, frustration, anger, and grief as God’s beloved can help us listen with empathy to others. We cannot enter into the thoughts and feelings of others if we are not in touch with our own inner values and emotions.

The term “holy curiosity” can help us ponder ways to love incarnationally. We certainly need creative new ways to minister in a rapidly changing world. Amy Hollingsworth is right that creativity is impossible without holy curiosity. Creativity is fed by our fascination with the quirky, astonishing, unexpected, and sometimes baffling world that God created. This amazing world includes such a wide diversity of people with their own priorities and passions. Am I willing to engage in holy curiosity with my new Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist neighbors, asking what they value and care about? Am I willing to practice holy curiosity with the long-term unemployed person in my congregation, asking how I can pray for her? Am I willing to carefully listen to others and to my inner voice with a curiosity informed by Jesus’ care, attention, and creative communication patterns?

And can I engage in holy curiosity with my friends who tell me — for the hundredth time — about their difficult marriage, defiant teenager, or challenges at work? We can pray to be curious with friends in a way that is perceptive yet gentle, honest yet kind.

Jesus, you asked the best questions, and we want to learn from you. Teach us holy curiosity.

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Next week: Praying for everyday initiative. This post is adapted from my book, The Power of Listening. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up below under “subscribe.”

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[1] “Education: Holy Curiosity,” Time Magazine 53, no. 12 (March 21, 1949): 49.

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