In Praise of Wonder
Can you remember the last time you gazed at something – or someone – in wonder? When was the last time you enjoyed that suspended feeling of awe and delight?
I’ve shared before an annual wonderment that occurs in the hallway of this building – when a new batch of preschoolers encounter the mystery of the water fountain! So boring us to us – just a mechanism for a quick drink – but to them! Its magic!
One child will say “Now” – and the group will watch as one presses the button while the others drop down to see the space underneath – hoping to solve the mystery of where the water is coming from! How is there both space – and water? How is it they have so much power? So reliant on adults for everything else – yet here they can make water stream forth in this efficient little arc – just by the push of a button! Oh – in praise of water fountains – and the wonder they invoke – if only for a short time.
I have spent this week being led by the Holy Spirit – and Google - in search of wonder – and mystery – and awe. As that’s what I hear St. Paul encouraging us to lean towards in this brief excerpt from the brief letter to the Ephesians. Mystery, mystery, mystery – he says over and over again. This mystery is why he follows Christ. This mystery wasn’t told to him in order to be solved – but made known to him as a revelation of truth – in the same way it has been made known to humankind through personal experience.
Through his experience of blindness and powerlessness – he experienced the mystery of God’s grace. Through his experience of sharing his story, Paul became aware of God’s power working in and through him. And through his experience of being part of a family of people (all those churches) wanting to explore that mystery through their own experience – Paul continues to see the ways in which the wisdom of God in its rich variety is made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
The wisdom of God – in its rich variety – is made known, is revealed through us.
Wonder – Socrates said – is the beginning of wisdom.
Scripture isn’t a philosophical text – so it doesn’t describe wonder. Scripture tells stories of people in wonderment. Like the magi – who pay attention to the natural world around them. Astrologers who march to their own drum and trust their intuition. And just like the homeless day laborers – those shepherds, to whom the angels revealed the good news of Christ’s birth – the magi are also outsiders, not connected with the covenant of God’s promise.
And that is the mystery! That these dream-interpreting, star-gazing, spiritual seekers are the ones to whom God shares a sign. Or could it be that God shared the sign in a rich variety of ways – but they were the only ones who wondered enough to see it?
I wonder if you have heard of Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring published in 1962, two years before she died. She was a biologist, pioneer in her field of study – environmental science. And that best-selling book – which led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency – was a best-seller, because Carson reminded the reader of the wonder of the world around us.
She, like the magi, was an outsider – a woman scientist without a Ph.D. or academic affiliation – and yet, was able to direct the attention of millions to a reality that led to infinite epiphanies around the need for conservation and stewardship of God’s creation. Like the magi, she remained open to seeing the rich variety of wisdom always available to us – but that somehow we grow blind too. She writes:
“A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later years . . . the alienation from the sources of our strength.” (Patheos reference for all quotes in this sermon)
Wonder is the beginning of wisdom because it generates curiosity. Curiosity to explore the mystery of the sources of our strength – our God-given gifts. Curiosity reawakens interests and parts of ourselves that we’d either given up on – or pushed aside lest they upset who we think we’re supposed to be. Or who we want others to think we are. As Carson writes, wonder is the antidote to boredom – and I would add, the antidote to apathy, cynicism and judgment.
In the gospel story it is clear which characters let their wonder and curiosity lead the way to light – and which character – is so ego-driven and self-consumed that death and destruction are the only avenues he can see.
Absolute certainty leaves no room for mystery. Absolute certainty is the antithesis of mystery – the inhibitor of reconciliation and renewal. For it leads not to curiosity – but judgment - and cuts us off from seeking – believing instead we are god-like enough to have all the answers.
Open-ended exploration of the mystery connects us with our strength – as Carson wrote, and as St. Paul does too. Paul says that our boldness, our confidence in who we are and the gifts we are created to share – is already known by God, through Christ. A more literal interpretation of his Greek would be – we have access to God in boldness and confidence because of his (Jesus’) faithfulness in us.
Maybe that’s why Jesus says we are able to accomplish even more than he did. Maybe that’s why Jesus says we have the faith to move mountains. Maybe that’s why Jesus says – let the little ones, the ones who are child-like come to me. Because that is when we are most intuitively connected with the wonder all around us – and therefore more easily surrender to the mystery of God within us.
One last quote I discovered in my exploration - “The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Children remind us to wonder, to see the miraculous in a water fountain. Which reminds us that we can choose to see that way, to open our eyes in amazement to a rich variety of wisdom surrounding us all the time – which invariable leads to deepening gratitude for the life-giving gifts God brings every day. Is that a resolution you might invite in this new year?
Where might you need to be reminded of the miraculous in the ordinary moments of your life? Where new roads might you venture down if you let curiosity – not certainty – take the lead? What dreams might you pay attention to – trusting that God is connected to every moment of your experience – so much so – that the mystery of your purpose and meaning can never cease to be explored?
Paul goes on a few verses later to give all the thanks to God for this grace-filled exploration that lasts beyond the lifetime we are given…..Glory to God – whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. Glory to God from generation to generation in the church – and through Christ Jesus. Amen.