A Sense of Wonder

The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
    the first of his acts of long ago.
23 Ages ago I was set up,
    at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24 When there were no depths I was brought forth,
    when there were no springs abounding with water.
25 Before the mountains had been shaped,
    before the hills, I was brought forth—
26 when he had not yet made earth and fields,
    or the world’s first bits of soil.  

Proverbs 8:22-26, NRSV

I’m not sure I’m totally equipped to write about “wonder.”  I’ll begin with three recommendations.  Two books:  Sacred Sense by William P. Brown and Beauty by John O’Donohue.  One film:  Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life.  

Wonder is the combined sense of the complexity of creation and the knowledge of our inability to comprehend it.  In it’s most potent form, wonder is a kind of gut-level joyful glee in response to something rather shocking and rare (but we can have this experience over simple and common things in life too- this is, perhaps, wonder at its best).  

When we were in Texas back in the fall, a group of us saw a shooting star almost too large to believe.  The only way I can think to describe its size is this:  Imagine holding a ruler up above your head at arm’s length, pretending it was far off in the distant sky, and not in your hand.  That was roughly the size and shape of the shooting star, only it WAS way up in the sky (millions of miles away???) and not just a couple of feet from our eyes.  

In Texas, at night, you can see all kinds of shooting stars.  We stood around for a while and saw several small ones, and we were amazed (To use the same exercise:  imagine holding a small blade of grass above your head at arm’s length.  Nothing in comparison to that ruler.).  And then came this bad boy.  We started shouting and jumping up and down.  For those of us who hadn’t seen shooting stars before, we found a sense of wonder in the small ones, and that sense of wonder grew exponentially when the giant one flew across the sky.  That is a sensation you just don’t want to find yourself too distanced from.  

Wonder is ever-present in scripture.  It can be a positive or negative experience.  The people sometimes maintain a sense of awe over their disappointment in God (Job 38 or so).  There is wonder over creation (Gen. 1-2), wonder over sex (Song of Solomon), wonder over the meaning of life (Ecclesiastes), wonder over the incarnation (John 1), wonder over the scope of God’s plans (Colossians 1).  

Wonder is connected to humility.  It is the reminder that there are forces far greater than ourselves operating in the world, but it also carries with it a sense of appreciation for these forces.  I believe “wonder” is what happens in the moments where we experience joy as a result of how small we are.  This is a very odd and bizarre kind of joy.  It makes us appreciate the little things in life, fleeting moments of awe that pull us out of our worries and grant us the privilege of perspective, however briefly.  

I don’t know why this strikes me as being one of the “top 8” aspects of a well-rounded spiritual life.  It just does.