Curiosity

“The question for agnosticism is,

Who turned on the lights?

The question for faith is,

Whatever for?”

Annie Dillard

By Dr. Jim Ferguson

Humans are creatures of habit, though some more so than others. I’ve known people who are inflexible or can deal with only one issue at a time. When I was in traditional medical practice flexibility was a necessity for survival.

Balancing the various aspects of life with hospital rounds, office practice, phone calls and then getting home to family life were my principle focuses. And then, after kids were in bed, I would finish chart work in anticipation of the next day’s work, and hope I didn’t get called back to the emergency room.

Well, all of that is history for this older doctor. Kids have been raised, educated and launched – and doing well with kids of their own. These days it is a rarity to find an old, dinosaur internist who still has an office practice and sees his patients in the hospital. And charts with written notes have been replaced by electronic records.

The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, “Punta rhe,” (everything changes); and so, it does. But that doesn’t mean I have to like change. Undeniably, we are more flexible when we’re young than as seasoned citizens.

I understand that Holiday schedules are necessary to accommodate the folks who put the Focus together each week. But the Holiday schedule wreaks havoc with my writing schedule. Even in retirement I still have routines, but it’s unsettling when the Thanksgiving week essay appears on Monday and next week’s essay is due Tuesday!

Recently, I did an inventory in my spiritual journal regarding the momentous changes in the world around me, many of which I consider as bad. A like-minded friend recently quipped. “It’s a good time to be an old person,” expressing her sadness regarding our country. My own thoughts were along the line, “It’s not my country any longer.”

Humans are quick to complain about what they see as wrong, and too often take for granted what is working well. I admit that I am preoccupied by the mess in my church and country and the world. However, when I began to list my blessings, I was reassured to find three times as many positives as negatives featured on Santa’s “naughty” list. I urge you to do your own inventory. And I think you’ll be surprised.

I’m a fan of the science fiction writer Ray Bradbury, who is also a genius of mystery and the macabre. Years ago, I obtained Mr. Bradbury’s permission to use one of his quotes in my science fiction novel, “Epiphany.” He said, “Anything you dream is fiction. Anything you accomplish is [of] science. The whole history of mankind is nothing but science fiction.”

I remember Bradbury’s weekly TV show which opened with a view of him in his office cluttered with all manner of unusual and mysterious items. As a writer I know it’s sometimes difficult to conjure up a storyline. This is sometimes referred to as writer’s block. Mr. Bradbury averred (held) that his inspirations often came from the objects in his office brought to life by his fertile imagination. I don’t have an office full of objects, though I have a replica of Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker on my desk. My inspirational cues come from my curiosity.

As a lifelong teacher, I’ve wondered if you can teach curiosity. The ancient Greeks were notably an inquisitive people. I’ve come to the conclusion that you may not be able to teach curiosity, but hopefully you can stimulate it or bring it to light. This was certainly true for me through education, apparently stimulated by memorable teachers. Now, using internet tools and aided by common sense I can quench my curiosity and then “pay it forward” by teaching medical students and my readers.

Ancient cultures were built upon what became known as The Cardinal Virtues of courage, common sense, justice and moderation. Consider that courage demands the presence of fear and the possibility of loss. Justice requires a standard, whereas moderation is a personal consideration. Interestingly, attempts to build cultures on these concepts did not survive. Later, the Apostle Paul wrote of The Theological Virtues, faith, hope and love

(1 Corinthians 13). I view these as preeminent. They function like the rudder of a ship. As a comment upon our current culture, I wonder if common sense is possible if there is nothing in common? And I wonder if there is ultimate meaning if God has been renounced? Years ago, my minister spoke of functional atheism where God has become irrelevant. Certainly, a troubling notion.

History teaches that the fundamental questions of humankind are: where did we come from and what is our purpose? I would add, what is our destiny? I am no longer conflicted about where I came from. I am a part of the Creation and I believe it has a Creator. Aristotle argued for the notion of causality, stated simply, something does not arise from nothing. I agree with Aristotle and innumerable other luminaries, and disagree with Stephen Hawkings and deGrasse Tyson. Their origin stories are little more than the hubris of man. Lastly, I am blessed and thankful to understand my purpose and my destiny.

Yes, these are troubled times, but imagine what it must have been like in Jerusalem under conquest by the Babylonians. Imagine the privation of the Great Depression or charging German machine guns on Omaha Beach. Like many, Becky and I often awaken saddened these days, but then I recount my blessings and continue the journey we call life. As the old hymn goes, I trust and obey; and I pray.

Entropy is a fundamental principle of the Creation which holds that all energy systems run down unless resupplied or rejuvenated. I believe the vision of God also dissipates if not actively sought through “daily bread.”

“Use it or lose it” is the vernacular iteration of entropy. We must daily seek the Spirit. We need to stay fit and as positive as we can. And in this information age there is no excuse not to satisfy your curiosity!

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