Megan completed her undergraduate and graduate studies at the U, where she studied English, Literature, and Film Studies.
She met her husband Tyler Rice while attending the U, and together they have four wild little boys: twins Benjamin and Wilson, who are 11, Henry, who is five; and Franklin, who was born in October 2020.
She is a grateful member of the Valley View 9th Ward Family and is currently the Young Women’s first counselor.
Never Lose a Holy Curiosity
Thank you Jesus. I loved that line that He will strengthen us in our learning path and thank you choir for that really beautiful hymn.
Last week, as I was walking to President's devotional at New Student Orientation, I became really emotional walking amongst you. Your energy and spirit have been missing for me for the past 18 months. Like we just sang in our opening hymn, "we've waited long for thee," and I cannot emphasize enough how grateful we are to be able to say "…come, come…Let Israel now be gathered home." You are here because we need you here.
I think I spent more hours writing this devotional than anything I have ever written. I jokingly titled the file for this talk "Death by Devotional" because I felt immensely the poverty of my words and my experiences every time I wrote. So, even though I feel ill-equipped to minister to you today, my sole prayer this week has been that my words can sustain you until those who are more prepared come along in the coming weeks. I thank you for being here today and seeking out faith-promoting experiences as part of your educational journey.
As a teacher, there is not a better site for me than a hand shooting into the air. I love when students blurt out, "Sister Rice! I have a question!" Especially when I know I have been talking for too long. I love the opportunity to let people ask questions and stop and reassess where we are in our learning. I love nurturing curiosity and critical thinking, and creative problem-solving. It energizes me, and the entire class benefits from your questions.
I love questions because I remember so well being a college student and feeling challenged so often by my interactions with the world. As an English major in a pretty liberal environment, I could not figure out a formula where everything being taught to me fit together into one great truth. One of my favorite writers of late is a 20th century Scottish Baptist preacher named Oswald Chambers. I wish I had found his wisdom on being challenged when I was back in college, so I want to share it with you today. Chambers writes (SLIDE ONE):
Every time you venture out in the life of faith, you will find something in your commonsense circumstances that flatly contradicts your faith. Common sense is not faith, and faith is not common sense…Can you trust Jesus Christ where your common sense cannot trust Him? Can you venture heroically on Jesus Christ's statements when the facts of your commonsense life shout, "It is a lie"? On the mount it is easy to say—"Oh yes, I believe God can do it"; but you have to come down into the demon-possessed valley [the demon-possessed valley of social media, I would add] and meet with facts that laugh ironically at the whole of your mount-of-transfiguration belief.
Doesn't that feel true? That your faith gets challenged from every direction? Moreover, in 2021, we do not even have to go outside; challenges enter through the palm of our hands. If every time we venture out, we have experiences that flatly contradict our faith then how do we maintain the courage to keep venturing out? What do we do? What do we do when what we know and what we are being told does not seem to match up? Even more, what do we do with our feelings when we know the truth, but that truth hurts or makes us angry or confused? How do we trust Christ when our common sense does not? (END SLIDE ONE)
After the death of Albert Einstein in 1955, LIFE Magazine Editor William Miller wrote about a time some months previously where he took his college-aged son to meet the celebrated scientist. Miller's memoir,
"Death of a Genius," captures a beautiful interaction between a great teacher and an eager student. Miller's son asks Einstein some typical existential questions. Why should I? How do I know? The type of questions teachers often hear. Prove to me the things that cannot be proven. The back and forth exchange shows that the tender Einstein truly was an expert teacher. As the interaction winds down, Einstein offers up one final piece of wisdom (SLIDE 2):
“Do not stop to think about the reasons for what you are doing, about why you are questioning. The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day. Never lose a holy curiosity.”
Never lose a holy curiosity. Einstein advises us to cultivate that side of us if we ever hope to understand the mysteries of the universe. Cultivate holy curiosity. But what is holy curiosity? I define holy curiosity as an essential attribute of faith that empowers us with the tools needed to face our challenges.
I love that Einstein chose the adjective "holy." In the Bible Dictionary, we read that in the scriptures, "things or places were holy that [were] set apart for a sacred purpose" we are also taught that "the opposite of holy is therefore common or profane." When I think of holy curiosity, I think of something set apart for a sacred purpose. Something meant to lead us to Christ. (END SLIDE TWO)
We find holy curiosity throughout scriptures. We oftentimes find the word "curious," emphasizing what has been set apart as holy. (SLIDE THREE) Lehi's "ball of curious workmanship" leads him and his family to the Promised Land. Under the guidance of the Lord, Nephi "did work timbers of curious workmanship" to build the ship that would carry them across the Sea. In Ether chapter 10, the Jaredites were blessed with immense prosperity because of their righteousness, and in verses 27-28, it says they did "work all manner of work of exceedingly curious workmanship. And never could be a people more blessed than were they." Exodus describes the holy garments made for Aaron and his priests, and in chapter 28, we learn about the "curious girdle of his ephod," which the bible dictionary explains was a sacred part of their temple garments was fastened to the Breastplate of Judgment. Curiosity skillfully attaches to faith and emphasizes holiness. A holy curiosity enables us to come closer to Christ. (END SLIDE THREE)
So if that which is set apart for a sacred purpose is holy, and that which is common or profane is the opposite of holiness, then what is the opposite of curious? For me, being critical directly opposes being curious. Holy curiosity confers faith; criticism or being critical confers fear. To be clear, I do not mean critical as in critical thinking, critical theory, or critical problem-solving. I mean precisely a spirit of criticism. A critical versus curious mindset. I think of critical as the cautionary phrases laced throughout scripture: hardheartedness, doubt, pride, resistance, stiffneckedness, murmuring, and stubbornness. Criticism eventually leads to rebellion, hatred, and wickedness. I think of being critical as prideful instead of humble. I think of it as the natural man choosing commonsense over wise-mindedness as spiritual revelations.
As I thought more about holy curiosity, many scripture stories supported curiosity as an attribute of faith in a way I had not thought about before. As you study scriptures, I invite you to find other examples that emphasize holy curiosity. This picture, from my favorite artist, J. Kirk Richards, is titled "Be Not Afraid," hangs in my office as well as my bedroom. (SLIDE FOUR) This painting depicts one of my favorite stories in the Bible, captured in Matthew 14 of the Savior calling Peter to walk on the water. I love this story, and it holds many personal truths for me, but let’s study it through the lens of holy curiosity and see if we can find some applications.
(SLIDE FIVE) In the 14th chapter of Matthew verse 24 has the disciples in that "demon-possessed valley" that Oswald Chambers wrote about, and their commonsense is challenged. These are fishermen in a boat, and the weather is not good. In verse 25, Christ suddenly appears out of nowhere, walking on water.
Now, the disciples know Christ; they know His miracles; they just experienced the loaves and the fishes feeding 5,000. However, their commonsense tells them people can’t walk on water, and so they are "troubled" and cry out in fear, "it is a spirit!" What do the disciples do next? Do they become critical or curious?
Well, actually, a little of both happens.
Having your commonsense challenged is overwhelming. Perhaps even triggering or traumatizing. But curiosity helps you move past that overwhelm. Peter is not totally convinced even after Christ identifies himself. But Peter leans into his curiosity and says, "Lord, IF it be thou" (again-he is not sure yet), "bid me come unto thee." And what happens from this moment of holy curiosity? A unique expansive experience for Peter that immediately brings him closer to his Savior. Like the Bible Dictionary says, it’s a holy experience set apart for a sacred purpose; a miracle, Peter walks on water.
We also see the opposite of that holy curiosity immediately come into play. Remember, our synonyms for criticism are fear and doubt. If curiosity leads us to faith and faith gives us the courage to overcome our fear and walk on water, then criticism, fear, and doubt drive us away. Peter looks around, and again his commonsense is challenged. He sees the "wind [is] boisterous," and he begins to literally sink with fear. While Peter did show great faith by stepping over the side of the boat, we see the commonsense of the fisherman fighting with the faith of the disciple. He moves out of his curious mindset and into a critical one. He doubts the Savior, he doubts himself, and he doubts the whole experience. He is sinking.
Peter’s doubts are understandable. How many times had that angry Sea claimed friends and family members, I wonder? How many times had commonsense and life experience told Peter to stay in the boat? Asking Peter to step out on the water asks Peter, the fisherman, to push past the borders of his faith, deny his commonsense, every truth he had been taught, his experiences, everything he knows to be true about the Sea and to instead believe in his Savior (END SLIDE FIVE).
This story teaches me four critical characteristics of holy curiosity (SLIDE SIX).
1. First, to be curious does not mean to reject or deny your feelings.
2. Second, it matters where you look for answers.
3. Third, criticism is a dead end.
4. Fourth, curiosity really can be a holy experience.
First, to be curious does not mean to reject or deny our feelings of fear or anger or doubt. Matthew carefully noted the range of emotions felt throughout this event and highlighted how we should expect big feelings in these challenging moments. Whether those feelings are fear, doubt, anger, confusion, pain, sorrow, depression, or anxiety, Matthew’s writing confirms it is appropriate and necessary to acknowledge these emotions. Feelings are a crucial part of God's plan. Holy curiosity is best served when we first acknowledge our feelings and then be curious about the genesis of those feelings. We are not meant to be joyful and at peace all the time. These are lone and dreary world moments. Sometimes the directives from our parents, our teachers, our church leaders, and even the Savior himself will evoke big emotions from us. I love that immediately after the disciples cry out in fear, immediately after Peter begins to sink in doubt, Christ’s extends His hand and offers His peaceful reassurance "It is I; be not afraid." Overcoming the criticism with curiosity stops you from sinking and again ultimately leads you back to Christ.
The second characteristic of holy curiosity teaches us where to go for answers, where to place our focus. Is your focus on Christ or the world? Are you leaning into your commonsense and your experience, and the limited perspective of the world? Or are you focusing your attention on Him, His miracles, His gospel, and more importantly, His Atonement which allows us to rise again and again, no matter how many times we sink? In our most recent conference, President Nelson touched on this very principle. He says when we have these questions, when we are curious or unsure, we need to "take our questions to the Lord and other faithful sources." When Peter looked to the wind and his commonsense and expertise as a fisherman, he started to sink; he leaned into those familiar worldly sources. He wasn’t wrong! Science and physics and all the other things that I don’t know as an English teacher say walking on water equals impossible. But the moment he looked back to Christ, he continued his miraculous experience. Like President Nelson says, "stop increasing your doubts and fears by rehearsing them with other doubters. Allow the Lord to lead you on your journey of spiritual discovery."
Third, where curiosity expands our opportunities, criticism remains a dead end. We watch Peter sink, and we know that his doubt and fear will lead him to destruction. Remember the synonyms for criticism that we discussed earlier? One of the best words on that list for me, stiffneckedness, creates such great imagery. You’re stiff, you’re set, and you can see one direction but nothing to the left or right. You cannot gain perspective. You are stuck. Criticism makes you stuck. And ultimately, if we can’t move forward, we sink. When you are curious about your feelings, challenges, or problems, take your questions to the Lord, he will expand your perspective in miraculous and holy ways. Isn’t that what we want? We want to have expansive experiences that give us a better perspective.
Fourth, curiosity exists to bring us to Him; curiosity is holy. At the end of the exchange with Peter, Christ asks a simple question, "Wherefore didst thou doubt?" With this question, Christ models an exchange that we see as a pattern from the beginning of man's exchanges with God. Even our Father in Heaven, the great God omnipotent who knows all things, honors a curious mindset. Why these questions when God and Christ surely know the answer? Because curiosity invites us to evaluate where we are and receive revelation. We are humbled in our questions, and that opens the communication lines with Heaven. It allows us to articulate for ourselves where we stand in relation to God. Are we obedient? Are we faithful? Are we seeking out His will over the will of the world or even our own commonsense? It gives us a chance to commune with Our Father in Heaven and his Son, our Savior. That is a miraculous and holy opportunity (END SLIDE SIX).
I want to share one final story about holy curiosity in my life. In 2012, I set out to read the Book of Mormon twelves times in 2012. Side note, I did not meet that goal. But I set the goal because I really wanted a strong testimony of the Book of Mormon and I just didn’t have it. So I started and read the whole book in the month of January. And I was excited. I got down on my knees and I was ready to receive the promise of Moroni to “know the truth,” I prayed whole-heartedly. But guess what - nothing happened. So I stayed curious, and I repeated my efforts in February. I was certain that the heavens would open and I would receive a knowledge of the truth, again I prayed. And again, nothing happened.
In March, I doubled down, really tried to pull meaning and truth out of it, and I had some overall better experiences but when I got to the end of the month and I prayed with a “sincere heart” and “real intent” again, nothing happened. I found myself frustrated and critical and actually a little scared. This felt like a crisis of faith.
But I did stay curious, and counseled with my husband, who, to this day, loves the Book of Mormon more than anyone I know. His wise counsel to me encouraged me to stay curious. So I told him my experience and fears, he simply asked, “have you noticed anything change in your life since you began reading?”
In early 2012, I was wearing a lot of hats; I was a young graduate student, a young mother with twin two-year-old boys and a young wife with a husband working long hours to build his company. As my semester began that January, I was teaching classes, I was taking my own capstone courses, and I was studying for my Master’s exams. I had spent the entire month of December fretting and crying and stressing about how I would carry this semester load. It felt impossible. When my husband asked me this question, “have you noticed anything change in your life?” I realized with a jolt, it was a jolt, that it was April, my work was complete, my children were fine, my household had survived, I had passed my exams and somehow I went through it all without missing a beat. I looked back and realized a miracle had happened. My little ship, tossed with waves in the midst of the sea had been safely guided through. It felt like a miracle and I would have missed out on recognizing that had it not been for holy curiosity.
Like I said previously, I love the artist J. Kirk Richards. And he has posted on his Instagram account about his journey back to sculpture from his more popular medium of painting. He talks about his love of sculpture as a child and encourages his followers to be curious about the medium. "See what happens. Then when you run into a problem, find a solution… start with clay and your hands." His holy curiosity led him to create a series of bronze sculptures entitled "Praying Christ," one of which, because of a generous donor, welcomes you into the foyer of Ensign college. (SLIDE SEVEN) Every time I walk past that statue in our foyer, I feel closer to Christ. I am grateful to J. Kirk Richards and his holy curiosity as well as my husband’s question when I came to him with my trouble. Not only does our curiosity help us, but it can help others come unto Him.
In closing, I would like to read a poem by David Whyte that I think describes beautifully what I hope you take away from this message about holy curiosity.
What to Remember When Waking
In that first hardly noticed moment in which you wake,
coming back to this life from the other
more secret, moveable and frighteningly honest world
where everything began,
there is a small opening into the new day
which closes the moment you begin your plans.
What you can plan is too small for you to live.
What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough
for the vitality hidden in your sleep.
To be human is to become visible
while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.
To remember the other world in this world
is to live in your true inheritance.
You are not a troubled guest on this earth,
you are not an accident amidst other accidents
you were invited from another and greater night
than the one from which you have just emerged.
Now, looking through the slanting light of the morning window
toward the mountain presence of everything that can be
what urgency calls you to your one love?
What shape waits in the seed of you
to grow and spread its branches
against a future sky?
Is it waiting in the fertile Sea?
In the trees beyond the house?
In the life you can imagine for yourself?
In the open and lovely white page on the writing desk?”
“What you can plan is too small for you to live.” A curious mindset brings us closer to Christ, especially if we set it apart in the holy way the scriptures ask us to. Curiosity builds our faith; it restores peace; it heals our wounds. As you develop curiosity as a characteristic of faith, I pray that you will receive revelation and find new paths and like Jesus said in his testimony, you will have Christ on that journey. You will find paths that you could never have imagined for yourself. I pray that you can find sacred moments to receive revelation and commune with heaven. I know Christ will offer you opportunities to participate in His miracles, and your life will be filled with joy (END SLIDE SEVEN).
I bear testimony of these things and offer my love to you. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.