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In a Place of Wonder

“Wonder is one of the wildest elements and qualities on the massive scale of human experience. Just a pinch of it stops time. The world halts. The eyes fill. You become, for a small time, everything you truly are.” -Victoria Erickson

I’m pretty sure you’ve been bored before. Maybe you were sitting in a doctor’s office surrounded by blank white walls and lined with hard blue chairs. Maybe you were in the backseat driving downtown in traffic. Maybe you didn’t like the book you were reading. Have you ever thought, though, about why you were bored? The usual answer is that we get bored because we have nothing to do. That description is odd, however, because we often give the same one for relaxing. So what is the difference?

The difference is in our state of mind, not in what we are or are not doing. I could sit for an hour on a cabin porch gazing at a landscape. I could wander around an unknown town. In both these situations, I could either be bored or I could not be bored. The difference is in my wonder, in how I am mentally approaching what I am doing.

Wonder at God’s world is something our modern society has most tragically lost. We fill our attention with instantaneous flashy news and constant pithy announcements, dulling our ability to be reflective. Our surroundings shock our senses so constantly that we can no longer be moved. Yet we should be sensitive enough to be shocked. Without shock, nothing excites us, nothing moves us and shakes the deepest part of our being. We should be able to wonder. For wonder is not just an automatic response to certain objects or experiences; wonder is an internal state of mind which enables us to jump out of the comfortable known into the unexpected unknown. It is an emotion within us that unsettles the plain and prosaic life we were experiencing.

Let me make this clear. We could travel to the Grand Canyon, journey to Mt. Everest, or wander around St. Peters in the Vatican, but if we do not bring a mindset that can wonder, we will not find the wonder in those places. We are becoming a bored society not because there is nothing beautiful left in the world, but because we no longer see the beautiful. As G.K. Chesterton said, “We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.”

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This realization is vitally important for us as we go outside. Nature and the wilderness are often seen as the places where we go to recharge, stop being bored, and get away from the constant mindless shocks of the city. And all this is true. However, I want to suggest that we are looking at nature the wrong way if we think that nature will give us automatically an experience of wonder. Yes, some sights are so shocking that we cannot help but wonder at them when we see them. But we must begin by seeing them! This is why a wondering state of mind is so important. A mind open to wonder looks at the physical places all around it and says, “This can’t be all there is!” Because it is not. We all know there is more. And when we wonder in nature, we sit at the threshold of the natural world seeing immense beauty; then we sigh with joy, close our eyes, and another world unfolds in front of us. Wonder tells us that there is meaning behind the physical things that we see. The moment of wonder shocks us out of the narrow limits of our physical senses into a transcendent experience where the beauty of nature intersects with the truth of God. Wonder is not just a happy emotion we get when we are in a beautiful place. It is an experience of the transcendent God in His earthly creation.

How amazing and unbelievable this is! God has given us the ability, as humans, to see His beauty and truth in His natural world. It is not an ability to be taken lightly, either. Our human nature is straddling the intersection of the physical and the spiritual realms. Boredom and unwondering attitudes drop us down into the purely physical realm, where nature’s beauty becomes merely an aesthetic experience, or even worse, an instrument purely for obtaining pleasure. This is not to say that the physical realm is bad; however, it is not the fullness of everything humans are supposed to be. Wondering is a natural human activity that we should strive to experience. As George MacDonald says, “To cease to wonder is to fall plumb-down from the childlike to the commonplace-the most undivine of all moods intellectual. Our nature can never be at home among things that are not wonderful to us.” Indeed, the loss of wonder is one of the most insidious dangers to our souls.

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How, then, can we revive true wonder in ourselves and those around us? The first step is simply this realization that wonder is not a quality of an object, but a state of mind. We should never go outdoors or to famous natural areas with an expectation that it will amuse us with its mind-blowing wonder. So let us change our attitudes, looking not for wonder but rather for God, and then wonder will come with that.

Secondly, it is important to realize that wonder doesn’t require a majestic or an extreme environment to awaken. Wonder can be found in the tiniest little things. We can revive true wonder by wondering at the minute as well as at the magnificent. The same God who made the Rocky mountains made the violet. The same God who created the Grand Canyon created the little bit of ivy twirling around your porch. Because our society makes us insensitive to shock, we require bigger and greater things to shock us. But it should not be this way. We should be able to wonder at the prosaic workings of nature as well as the dramatic episodes of the planet.

This ties closely to the third practice we can begin in the crusade for wonder. Not only are small things filled with potential for wonder, so are everyday things. We don’t need to go on a three-day trek into the wilderness in order to experience wonder. We don’t even need to step outside our houses. Wonder is not confined solely to the natural world. Since wonder is an experience of God in the world, it can be found anywhere. So practice seeing the beauty and wonder every day, no matter what you are doing. You will begin to re-sensitize yourself; it will become easier to be shocked into wonder. And you will have a much smaller chance of ever being bored again!

There is one last, very important note on reviving wonder. Wonder is not an experience we can decide to have. I can’t go for a little jaunt in the woods and say, “I’m going to experience transcendent wonder in the midst of the trees today!” All you can do is be open to wonder. Open your senses and your love to the natural world around you. Look for the beauty surrounding you. Step into God’s world with a prayer of gratitude and love: thanking God for His creation, for making you such that you can experience this creation, and begging humbly that you might experience Him today.

 

God loves when we come to him in a child-like state of wonder. I am reminded of G.K. Chesterton again: “What was wonderful about childhood is that anything in it was a wonder. It was not merely a world full of miracles; it was a miraculous world.” Becoming child-like makes us more like God, as Chesterton continues: “It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” Shall we not strive to be such true children of wonder, indeed, children of the God of wonder?

Step out then into the world of God’s creation, my friends. Walk through nature with a song of beauty on your lips…wondering away…wondering forever…wondering into the arms of the Father:

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“Give thanks to the LORD, invoke his name;

make known among the peoples his deeds!

Sing praise to him, play music;

proclaim all his wondrous deeds!

Glory in his holy name;

let hearts that seek the LORD rejoice!

Seek out the LORD and his might;

constantly seek his face.

Recall the wondrous deeds he has done.”

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