Melissa O’Brien

I spent all last week at Fordham University where I am finishing up a degree in pastoral care. I took a class in pastoral counseling skills, and though most of the classes for this degree have been online, this one had an on-campus requirement. I lived in a dorm for the week, which was both peaceful and horrible, monastic-like and, well, suffice it to say I don’t miss that particular aspect of college life at all.

Because the class was a counseling skills class, we spent a lot of time practicing counseling skills, which meant that we spent a lot of time revealing ourselves to one another, which meant that we came to know each other pretty well after five long days of sharing and practicing.

Fordham University was founded in 1841 by the Catholic Diocese of New York, but today it’s very much an inter-faith institution. Here’s how inter-faith: In my class there were two Coptic priests from Egypt, two UCC pastors, one person on his way to Lutheran seminary, a young Catholic priest from Sri Lanka, a nun from India, two Methodists, two women who converted to Judaism as adults, an atheist from California and a couple of folks who didn’t identify with any particular faith tradition or lack thereof. We were a terrific melting pot of humanity, thrown together for a week on a college campus by virtue of the fact that we all wanted to get better at helping people.

Given the many different labels we came with, one would have thought that we wouldn’t have much in common or that there might have been some discord within the group. After all, there’s a pretty great gulf between a conservative Coptic priest (who arrived each day in full priestly black garb) and a California atheist (who arrived each day with a terrific tan, in cool jeans and sneakers). As it turned out, we spent most of our time together in deep and meaningful conversation about … everything. We were all madly curious about each other. The hours of the class went by without notice, and the hour and a half we had for lunch each day was frustratingly never enough. One lovely afternoon seven of us went across the street to the New York Botanical Gardens and had lunch in the cafe. I had a moment there where I drifted away from the conversation and took it all in: the beauty of the grounds around us and the incredible reality of us: seven people from all over the world, sitting together in conversation about big things: God, faith, hell, sin, scripture, love.

I realized what it was that was causing us to bond so easily: curiosity.

We could easily have found a hundred reasons to not get along: I don’t understand you; you don’t worship the way I do; you don’t think the way I do, you look nothing like me; I can’t understand you when you speak…but instead we allowed a child-like sense of wonder and curiosity propel us into intimate and loving conversations. On the last day at the end of our class we stood in a circle, held hands and prayed together, representatives from at least six different religions, four countries and five states. We had become friends and all of us were loathe to leave.

Curiosity. It can make all the difference.

When you read our wonderful intern Jackie Flynn’s piece in this issue about her time in South Africa, you will see how it moved her into new and magical places in this world and in her heart. You will find it in the story of award-winning CCS teacher Tasha Grey and the work she does with our children. We introduce a new column in this issue, Young Charlotters, where we will find out what kinds of curiosities are propelling our young people forward from here out into the wider world where they are doing good work. We bless our children with a heart full of curiosity as we watch them in motion during this season of graduations.

Let curiosity be the thing that compels you to know your neighbors better, that inspires you to become involved in new and different ways, that helps you to open doors you might otherwise have closed. We are a world of infinitely interesting people—don’t miss out.