My friend and colleague Lucinda Mosher drew my attention to an article on Huffington Post, by Carl McColman, “Curiosity May Be Hard on Cats, but It’s Great for Interfaith Friendship.”

McColman says, “The youngest member of my family is our one-year-old cat, Margery. She is a most inquisitive creature …[and] gets into everything….  her eager exploration is rather inspiring to me…. every corner of the house represents a new frontier for investigation, learning, and insight. In fact, I think her inquisitive nature is a good model for me — and for all of us, living in this age where (sic) people of different cultures and faiths live as next-door neighbors.”

He describes an interreligious conversation that was motivated not by competition about religious truth, but by desire “simply to learn, to discover, to gain insight on how different traditions understand experience, interpret it, and explain it, in a way that can help to make sense of the interface between human spirituality and the ultimate mystery…. we were all simply inquisitive, seeking in our curiosity and thirst to learn about each other’s faith and experience, more light for understanding and making sense of our own.

“Because of this, we could find joy in our conversation. We came together in a spirit of celebrating diversity and finding wonder in the mysteries of life and language, without needing to fix or solve anything. And this, I believe, is the model for how interfaith conversation and indeed interfaith spirituality can take place in our world….  Every time I relate to a person of another faith with an open and kind heart, rather than any desire to convert or control, I in essence am casting a vote for … a hopeful future. In essence, I am choosing curiosity over competition.”

Along with the importance of such curiosity, though, I hope we will look closely at the dynamic role that such “wonder,” or beauty, plays in our relationships.  It is beauty, I think, that not only provides much of the motivation for the kind of curiosity that McColman describes, but also is a more essential dimension of existence and experience.

What often attracts me, or moves me in relation to other cultures and religions, and the people who live them, is that I see and hear and feel beauty in them.  I have been affected and opened by the experience of beauty in and through the rituals of other traditions; the sights and chants of others at prayer; cultural ways of saying and understanding things that open up whole new dimensions of possibility in them;  experiences of God’s presence never encountered before.

Perhpas this is not surprising for a Protestant Christian such as myself, schooled by the Westminster Catechism to believe that the chief end of being human is to glorify God and enjoy God forever.  Attention to, and delight in, all of the manifestations of God’s glory in the world is both a natural, and a religious, starting point in relating to all of God’s creation.

“We have been placed here, as in a spacious theater, to behold the works of God, and there is no work of God so small that we ought to pass by it lightly, but all ought to be carefully and diligently observed,” said John Calvin, in his Commentary on Isaiah 57:1.  In his Institutes, he speaks of God “enticing us to desire” of intimacy with God in Christ, and of the soul being “ravished” by God’s beauty.  While scripture provides the “spectacles” through which we can properly understand creation, “the undeniable evidence of God’s grandeur lies in the symmetry and beauty of the created world” (p 29).  Creation shines with “God’s restless desire to communicate the divine love and beauty to others” (p. 31).  [For more on this, see the new book by Belden Lane, Ravished by Beauty: The Surprising Legacy of Reformed Spirituality, Oxford University Press, 2011, in which the last citations appear.]

It is, of course, possible, to find the shocking and ugly among people of other cultures and religions, as among people of our own culture and religion.  But  why not let the beauty we find entice us to be curious, and, more, to let such beauty move, re-mold, and delight us?  In coming together  in appreciation of those who differ from us, we understand and connect more deeply with them, and at the same time see more of the beauty with which God has infused the world, for our joy, our learning, and our transformation.

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