Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Holy Curiosity

The Rev. Becky Zartman
“Did you ever notice that Rebekah had a nose ring?” Sarah Lefton of G-dcast asked the crowd at e-Formation in June. I felt a little foolish. I hadn’t noticed that Rebekah had a nose ring, and my name is Rebecca. Yikes. “When you read to illustrate a story, you read scripture at another level. You see details in an entirely new way.” And seeing details in an entirely new way is kind of what Sarah Lefton does. It changed her life. 

During Sarah Lefton’s talk, we heard about her transformation from religious illiteracy to being the founder of G-dcast. Her story goes like this: Sarah was raised Jewish, but while at a Shabbat dinner at a friend’s, she was asked to comment on the story of Joseph and his brothers, and she found that despite her years at Hebrew School, she didn’t know the story. This troubled her, so she set out to learn more, and her curiosity snowballed from a series of “What if’s?” and “Why not’s?” to a passion for religious education. Now she produces animated shorts based on the Torah and the Talmud, and games to help children and adults learn more about their faith. 

What struck me about Sarah’s story was the role of curiosity. She could have just brushed off not knowing the story of Joseph, but instead, she looked it up. She wanted to learn more, so she got nosy. She read the text closely. She found friends she could read and study with, and she got deeper and deeper. Curiosity piled on curiosity; about the divine, about the Jewish people, about Scripture, about humanity. And this curiosity pushed her into sharing her newfound knowledge and joy with others. Where curiosity was awakened, interest followed. 

Too often we hear laments about the downfall of Christian Formation. “No one comes to Bible Study/Adult Formation Hour anymore,” “It’s the same five people,” “Everyone was too busy to read the book.” Most churches are in the same boat; almost everyone at e-Formation was talking about their frustrated efforts to help their parishioners make formation a priority.

Clearly, if the 150 top-notch folks who attended e-Formation don’t have an answer, I don’t, either. But I wonder what it might look like if we tried nurturing a curiosity in all things Holy. What if we spent time looking at our lives and faith, seeing common threads, wondering why, asking questions, and doing research along the way to see what the answers might be? As far as facts and history go, we’ve got the collected knowledge of humanity in our pockets, so why not use it? What if we adults tried our hands at imagination, usually left to the purview of the five-year-olds in the Godly Play room? We could try drawing, as Sarah recommended, or we could try creative Christian problem solving for real situations in our lives and neighborhoods. I don’t know what this exactly would look like at St. Thomas’ or anywhere else, but I do believe that fostering curiosity in the Divine can only lead to a deeper relationship with God. 

And so, taking a page out of Sarah’s book, I sat down and tried to draw Rebekah. No, you may not see it, because I crumpled it up and recycled it, but the most important part was that I did it, and by doing it, I had to wonder about her and how her life changed when God called her to become a matriarch of our faith. I discovered that the Rebekah I read anew surprised me — she was stronger than I had thought, so she could pull all of that water out of the well. She’s not mousy at all; she’s actually confident enough to talk to a stranger, and she’s confident enough to take her fate into her own hands, to set off immediately to greet her new life. I imagined her climbing onto her camel, flawlessly pulling off a bold and brightly colored outfit, nose ring and all.

Becky Zartman is the Assistant Rector at St. Thomas Dupont Circle, and is working on a Fresh Expression in the diocese. She blogs at www.vicarofhstreet.blogspot.comand tweets at @Becky_Zartman.