One of the wonderful things about computers is that they can do things automatically. As this is published, I will be on retreat with my classmates from Notre Dame Seminary in preparation for (with God’s grace and Holy Perseverance) ordination as a deacon this coming May 21st. If you’re reading this between January 10th and January 13th, please offer a small prayer for us as we are on retreat. If you’re reading this afterwards, please pray for us anyway! 🙂
After people begin to trust us and if we’re living authentically Christian lives (i.e. lives always striving for holiness and filled with repentance for our many failures), curiosity will be sparked in the hearts of those whom we encounter. Our friends will begin to wonder, “What’s different? What’s that deep joy that he has now? How come she seems so happy? She used to get really angry or really sad when things went badly; but now she seems okay. What’s going on?”
The more we’re living the Christian life and the more those people in our lives are open, and the more that their hearts are open by our love in the trusting relationships which we build, then the second threshold comes about: curiosity.
Two points of Sherry Weddell’s, I think, are very pertinent: questions and teaspoons.
There are a couple of ways to foster curiosity. The first is simply by our lives. But that’s not enough. The witness of our lives is necessary but not sufficient for evangelization. We must also use words. And the most effective words come in the form of questions. We skillfully, gently, and with lots of discernment help our friends along the path of faith. “Hey, what did you think about that movie? It’s about Christmas time; what’s your favorite part of Christmas? How’s your family [and really mean it, asking periodically about family members by name]?” And they too will ask questions.
When our friends begin asking questions about our relationships with Jesus, a great temptation for a motivated Christian is to try to give them everything at once, to tell my interlocutor everything I know or everything that helped me in my pilgrimage of Faith. But the real thing to do is to love the other person. What’s he really asking? What does she really want to know? Do I need to ask a clarifying question to better give her an answer? And maybe most importantly, don’t fill a teaspoon of curiosity with a gallon of answer! Slow…loving…gentle…just like God is with all of us.
You can easily quench inquiries by drowning a teaspoon full of curiosity with a gallon of answers. Match your response to your friend’s level of curiosity, and then wait for her to become curious again (Forming Intentional Disciples, 145).
Until the middle of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus tells everyone to keep who he is a secret. Some Bible scholars call this the “Messianic secret.” He heals people. He casts out demons. Then he commands them not to tell anyone. So all around Galilee there’s a buzz–a murmuring. “Something’s going on. There’s this Jesus guy; maybe he’s Elijah, maybe he’s John the Baptist raised from the dead. Or maybe he’s Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”
Now, exegetes (Bible scholars) give many reasons as to why Jesus might have been doing that and Jesus himself probably had more than one. But maybe one of the reasons for the “Messianic secret” was to foster curiosity–not to spoon-feed people all of the answers, but to let people ask the questions and, in thinking these things over and asking these questions, to practice in prayer. No, they’re not praying yet, but they’re practicing pondering in their hearts (cf. Lk 2:19, 51). We call that meditation. And meditation, while not prayer itself, is one of the movements which leads us to prayer.
So if we love our friends, our family members, and the rest…if they trust us…and if now they are beginning to become curious, we foster that curiosity. We ask questions; we give answers as we can; and we help them to ponder in their hearts, to begin practicing pondering. With much patience and grace, the conversation which they have with themselves as they ponder in their minds and hearts will turn into conversation with God, into the beginnings of real prayer which can deepen and deepen…all the way to heaven.
So what are we doing in this second threshold? Questions and teaspoons, always fostering more pondering.