Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Curiosity as Compassion

In the gospels, Jesus shows a remarkable interest in other people: a foreign women at a well, a blind beggar behind the crowd, a short tax collector up in the tree. In each and every case he dignifies a person with his attention. What must that attention have felt like for people who usually received only sneers and even more often were simply passed over without being noticed at all? What does it feel like to you when someone notices you? Remembers your name, or your birthday, or some tidbit of information that you volunteered about yourself the last time you were together? Or how did it feel the last time someone asked you a good question and then stuck around long enough to truly hear your answer?

Marilyn Chandler McEntyre in her book Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies (yes, that's the book I quoted last week. It's a really good book!) makes the claim that curiosity is a form of compassion. It shows up in her chapter on being a good conversationalist. She argues that showing interest in another person, asking them, "What is it like to be you?" is an act of love. And so it is. There is nothing more encouraging, more soul enriching, than for another person to take a genuine interest in you. Nothing more insulting than being ignored.

One of the great promises of the gospel is that God has not ignored us. He knows our names. He knows the hairs on our head. He knows our fears and our desires and, yes, even our sins. And he loves us just the same. God pays attention to us. What an act of compassion. And what a challenge. If we are to love others as Christ has loved us, we must practice paying attention to them. We must put down our phones. We must slow down our days. We must give the beggar our conversations above and beyond giving him our change. We must recognize that quantity of time is quality time with our children. We must be curious as to who people are behind our labels - clerk, waitress, employee, boss, policeman, politician, etc. We must be willing to ask and learn, "What is it like to be you?"

What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor - Psalm 8:4-5

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