Kelly Patterson, a political science professor at Brigham Young University, invited students and faculty to consider themselves wanderers and wonderers as they interact with their faith in the world, in a devotional Tuesday in the auditorium of the Joseph Smith Building.
Patterson began by telling those in the audience that “learning about and living with faith is a personal journey,” and that “you can take what is beautiful and true about the gospel of Jesus Christ and live in a world that is not always friendly to faith.”
He encouraged the idea that faith and reason are not incompatible. “To put it bluntly, you can know that Jesus is the Christ and that He restored His gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith at the same time that you can immerse yourselves in the wonders of the humanities, the social sciences, the sciences and other disciplines of knowledge.
“Modern society most often provides us with the mutually exclusive options of being either faithful or rational. However, we have many more interesting and intriguing possibilities before us,” Patterson said.
“The Lord has furnished us with two models to help us cope with the tension we often face between faith and reason. The two models take the form of the wanderer and the wonderer,” Patterson said. “As we combine the models of the wanderer and the wonderer, we can actually carve out another way to live in a world that often forces a contrived set of choices upon us.”
Speaking of wandering, “The wanderer is an individual or people who are not completely and wholly comfortable in this world,” Patterson said. “It is a wandering that is designed to take the individuals or people out of the situation in which they find themselves so that the Lord can teach them the gospel and make sacred covenants with them. The wandering wrenches them out of the comforts, habits and routines that can dull their senses and fixate their desires on the mundane. The wandering removes the residue of the world from off of them and creates openings for Heavenly Father to teach them His gospel.
After mentioning examples of wanderers from the scriptures, Patterson said, “We are not asked to wander in deserts and in mountains, but we are asked not to become too comfortable here…Wandering on this earth for our appointed time is our ‘school of the soul.’
“However, we can only learn from this school if we take the initiative to enroll and reflect on the meaning and splendor of its lesson,” Patterson said. “The model of the wanderer is not sufficient by itself. For this reason, the second model is that of the wonderer.”
Patterson spoke of Moses as “the consummate wanderer and wonderer” because from his experiences in life and his dealings with the Lord, he does not start “with the assurance of what he thinks he already knows, but with the understanding that there is much more to learn from a source that seems to have so much more wisdom and knowledge than he had previously thought possible or understood.”
Patterson continued, “So what does wandering and wondering do for you? What sort of perspectives should a productive merging of these two postures impart to you?
“First, you should acknowledge that the gospel of Jesus Christ does not, and this I must emphatically say, does not require you to check your intelligence at the door.
“Furthermore, we do not shy away from the hard work of thinking and contemplating.
“We can and should do the hard work of thinking and engaging with those who have considered similar questions with the academic disciplines; it is part of the charm of wondering,” Patterson said.
“There is a second perspective we gain as we blend the stances of wanderer and wonderer. As you encounter the secular world, you will hear representations against religion, God, communities of believers and many other aspects of faith. As you encounter such representations, your stance as a wanderer and wonderer should already have prepared you to scrutinize carefully the assumptions of those who only make the worst representations about faith. As a wanderer, you should not feel completely at home with the fads and trends in thinking that you see in the world,” Patterson said. “As somebody committed to wonder, you can continuously pursue knowledge about the heavens and gain insights and understanding that many in the world never choose to achieve.
“Wandering brings with it meekness. And wonder supplies the enthusiasm to call upon your Heavenly Father as you seek to understand Him and His plan,” Patterson said.
He closed by saying, “We can creatively use the examples of wandering and wondering to blaze a reliable and exhilarating path back into the presence of our Heavenly Father.”
To read the talk in its entirety, visit speeches.byu.edu. The devotional will also be rebroadcast on BYUtv. Check byutv.org for schedules, as well as on demand availability.
Writer: Stephanie Bahr