Curiosity: The Wonder-Ful Worldview

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
– Luke 24:28-29

 There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
– Hamlet

IMG_20170329_095533448My seven-month-old daughter has recently begun her foray into eating solid foods. As a bit of a foodie myself, this is both exhilarating and maddening. I love imagining the incredible lifelong journey she has in front of her: the first lick of ice cream, the first slurp of spaghetti, the first bite of a juicy peach in summer or a crispy apple in the fall. Food is magical in so many ways and I am mesmerized by the possibility of curating her culinary experience. At the same time, introducing a kid who can barely keep herself from toppling over at any given moment to the messy goodness of a banana is enough to make you pull your hair out. This morning, she managed to wipe more on our Labrador’s ears than made it in her mouth.

What I do appreciate about her early attempts at self-sustenance is her sheer willingness to immediately put whatever I set on her tray directly in her mouth. Whether it’s a white glob of Greek yogurt or a bright yellow roasted pepper or a big red strawberry, her little pincer skills do everything in their power to bring that strange object to her lips. She does not hesitate; she says yes to every opportunity. Nine times out of ten her curiosity is met with shock and disgust as she squints her blue eyes, puckers her little mouth, and shakes her head until the offending substance falls out. A few minutes in, however, she begins to find a liking and her adventurous spirit pays off with a new food to add to her acceptable meals list.

I am reminded of her intrepid curiosity as I reflect on this passage in Luke 24 where two unnamed disciples encounter the hidden Jesus on Resurrection Sunday, as they walk the seven-mile stretch of road between Jerusalem and Emmaus. When they realize their mysterious companion is seemingly unaware of the momentous events of the past few days in the city, they begin to tell him the story. Two things become clear as they share: first, they are quite well-informed about Jesus and his ministry; and, second, despite their abundance of knowledge, they have been disappointed by him. The text says their faces were “downcast” and that they “had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel,” implying that this hope has been dashed by the weekend’s trial and execution. Though they have heard word of perplexing details surrounding his empty tomb, they have decided not to stick around to see for themselves. Their hoped-for messiah is dead and they are returning home.

But, something happens at this point in the story that arrests their disappointment. This supposedly ignorant stranger begins to unpack the Scriptures for them, adding layer upon layer of context to help them interpret differently the death of their would-be Savior. As Sally Lloyd-Jones puts it, it was suddenly as if the stories of the Hebrew Bible were a giant jigsaw puzzle and the death of Jesus the missing piece that made all the other pieces fit together (“Were not our hearts burning within us while he…opened the Scriptures to us?”). Could it be that this crucifixion and the whispered rumors of an empty tomb were not merely the inevitable demise of another unfulfilled messiah fantasy but actually the inevitable climax of God’s plan to rescue the world?

This question awakens something powerful in these weary travelers. It is not yet hope or faith; it is something else, something that precludes these virtues. It is the same animating spirit that focuses my baby girl’s attention on yellow scrambled eggs that contrast sharply with her green plastic tray: Curiosity. Curiosity is searching for reason to hope; it is a way of looking at the world and assuming that more is happening than can be seen on the surface. It stands in stark opposition to cynicism, which maintains that less is happening than appears on the surface. Curiosity is akin to wonder, which blends seeking with admiration; it is the place where mind and heart co-mingle, where truth and beauty are one and to truly know a tree or a book or a person is to love them as well. Curiosity is the open door out of the mundane and into the wide world of adventures as small as a strawberry and as vast as planetary exploration.

Road to Emmaus.pngConsider how easily they could have missed it. The point in the story is so small that you could easily pass by it and I often have. The travelers listen with rapt attention to their strange companion until they approach their journey’s end. The man seems to have further business up the road and they easily could have let him continue. No doubt they were tired after the events of the weekend and their seven-mile walk. Are we not often eager to disengage following intense emotional moments or intellectual conversations and find a quiet place to escape? Perhaps later they could have even published a scroll or two and amassed quite a following based on the insights they had gathered from him. Yet, they lingered in wonder. Curiosity overcame them and they cried out three simple words that mark a true disciple; three words that Jesus earlier in the Gospel narratives called “the secret of the Kingdom of God” and rewarded with deeper understanding: “Stay with us!”

These three simple words separate “knowers” from “doers;” they delineate between the Greek (and American millennial) desire to simply acquire boundless information and the Hebrew understanding that wisdom only comes from knowledge that is lived out in real world. These men choose to believe that more is happening than appears on the surface and, though they do not fully understand, they know that to be with this man is to be on the path to understanding. “Stay with us!” is the cry of the curious heart; it is the desire to be where the Master is, to find oneself covered in the dust of the Rabbi as we follow in his footsteps. It is walking around with your eyes and heart open, believing that God is at work all around you and desiring with every breath to join him in his work.

And so the mystery man becomes their welcome guest. Like my daughter lighting up at her first gummy bite of a Gala apple, their eyes are opened and they recognized him in the breaking of the bread at dinner. Just like that he’s gone. Wonder upon wonders – they have encountered the Risen Jesus and, like all whose curiosity leads to great discovery, they rush back to tell the tale. May my own life be marked by such wonder at the world and the Maker who gave us bananas and black holes and everything in between all so that we would “seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27).

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