We are a fickle creation. Capable of such amazing feats of love and mercy, yet so often stuck in judgment and vice. We may stand in awe of God’s majesty when we are hit in the head with it – when it comes to us as lightening to the scalp – but so often anything less than that is lost in the fray of our busy lives. We have lost the capacity to wonder.
When my kiddos were little I read a book called Walking in Wonder by Elizabeth White. It was a little book; nothing magnificent. But that is kind of the point, isn’t it? Wonder should not be reserved for the magnificent, but easily called upon even in the presence of the unassuming and humble.
It was a mini-manual for nurturing wonder in your children, and it did indeed shape much of how I raised my kids. It wasn’t so much the activities, or the irritating bullet points at the beginning of each chapter telling me what I should take away if I was really paying attention, but the concept itself that grabbed me and never let go. I was a young convert to Orthodoxy, and a book on helping kids to find God was probably the best thing for me. It opened my own eyes to the gifts set in front of me, and challenged me to help my children to not take anything for granted. It was a fierce challenge indeed, as wonder is not something you can teach, but only encourage and draw into. And in order to draw someone in, you yourself need to already be within.
Wonder is not a force that pushes us passively from behind; it is situated ahead of us with irresistible force toward the object of our astonishment; it makes us advance toward it, filled with enchantment.
~ Sophia Cavaletti, via Walking in Wonder
It is not easy to attune yourself to the world, to disengage with the busyness and settle back into life as it was created for us: a wonderment factory urging us toward the divine. There are moments, but they are fleeting. There are seasons, but they seem so far removed the minute an icy breeze moves in.
We would be hard-pressed to have our eyes open at all times, but the more we practice being awake, the more natural it will become, the less fleeting.
Practicing is a tricky word, for it implies that we have to conjure wonderment, which is impossible. We need only to settle our minds into some spaces of silence and open ourselves to that which we spend the bulk of our time drowning out. The wonderment will come.
Beauty is felt more than defined, appreciated more than explained; a person’s inner spirit is touched by beauty through interacting with things that manifest God’s artistry in the natural world. The wonder we feel in the presence of beauty is not imposed by the teachings from without; rather, it overflows from within, from the soul’s response to some mysterious, compelling call.
~ Elizabeth White, Walking in Wonder
Wonder, without a doubt, is directly related to our faith; if we have lost the capacity to wonder, we cannot hope to embrace the mysteries of God. Our faith, in turn, is the primary vehicle for wonder; it is the ultimate training grounds where we nurture our sense of mystery in the world, and ultimately our God.
God alone is a noun. All created things are adjectives.
~ Bishop Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead…
~ Romans 1:20
Walking in wonder means opening our hearts to God. “Only wonder can comprehend His incomprehensible power” (St. Maximus the Confessor). “The world is the gift of God. We must know how to perceive the giver through the gift” (Olivier Clement, The Roots of Christian Mysticism). Children do not need to be taught how to wonder; they only need opportunities to walk in its path – they will take the steps by themselves. Wonder as an attitude of life enables us to walk more astutely toward faith.
~ Elizabeth White, Walking in Wonder
But yet, somehow, even in the midst of this cosmic gift of a universe, submerged in this glorious life we have been given, we have found ways to be distracted from it. We do not engage with our surroundings; we do not see the love letters written on every organism of the cosmos; we do not catch our breath at the beauty of it all. Not nearly enough. Without the ball peen in use, we let it all swirl around us without a word of awe or thanks.
The blade of grass under my toe should be enough to set my spirit soaring. The sick child asleep on the couch should send me to my knees in wonder at the beauty of life. The rabbits that overrun my garden and the tomatoes that persist through the daily shearing by wee little bunny-teeth. The raincloud shading my goosebumped legs. The miracle of a strawberry. The gift of language. The music of the woods and meadows. How can any of these fail to get my attention?
Our fall, our sin, is that we take everything for granted – and therefore everything, including ourselves, becomes routine, depression, empty… The eternal task of faith and of the Church is to overcome this sinful, monotonous habituation; to enable us to see once again what we have forgotten how to see; to feel what we no longer feel; to experience what we are no longer capable of experiencing.
~ Fr. Alexander Schmemman, Celebration of Faith
And so we repent, we return to the experiences God has bestowed upon us with new eyes and a new spirit, ready to engage, ready to breathe deeply of the riches. Ready to take the time, this time, to wonder at the elegance of it all.
* Photo courtesy of Rachel