We live in a deeply traumatized world. COVID has changed all of us and the ways we interact with our congregations and communities. Most of us are living in a state of constant anxiety and stress. This last year has shaken us to the core. Many are filled with fear and uncertainty. We know the future will require change, but our trauma makes us lose trust in the world. Our fear paralyses us, making us resistant to the very adaptations that could enable us to survive with resilience and joy.
How do we find strength and stability in the midst of these challenges for ourselves and our congregations? We know we need new tools to help us respond; one I think is both overlooked and under-rated is the gift of wonder.
Wonder changes our approach to life, opening us to surprise, expectation, anticipation, celebration and mystery. It enables us to imagine new life and new beginnings, moving our actions from individualism and materialism towards community. It encourages us to be more caring and compassionate people. We all need a daily dose of awe and wonder.
Alice Walker, author of The Colour Purple says, “I think the foundation of everything is wonder.” I agree with her. Wonder is a beautiful gift from God, yet we underestimate its power to transform us, relieve our stress and heal us from all forms of trauma.
I love Matthew 18:3 in The Passion Translation. “Learn this well: Unless you dramatically change your way of thinking and become teachable, and learn about heaven’s kingdom realm with the wide-eyed wonder of a child, you will never be able to enter in…”
Can you imagine looking around you everyday with the wide-eyed wonder of a child, seeing everything as if it were the first time, gasping in awe at the beauty of trees and flowers or the face of a beloved child or parent? Can you imagine looking deep within yourself at the incredible act of your own creation? All of us are made in the image of God and every creature has a spark of divine life within it—now that really is awe inspiring!
The blessings of awe and wonder greet us at every turn, but often we are too busy or too distracted to notice them. We all live in a world that is incredible; it shimmers with the glory of God, but we have lost our ability to appreciate that wonder and therefore to discover the healing power it holds. Robert McFarlane, in his fascinating book Landmarks, suggests we have not only lost our ability to appreciate wonder, but we have also lost the language to express it. He notes that when the Children’s Oxford Dictionary was updated recently, some words were taken out and others added. All those removed had to do with nature and those added had to do with technology. We have stunned the world out of wonder, he says. We suffer from awe and wonder depletion.
McFarlane calls for the re-wonderment of the world, and as we move forward in our fight against both the pandemic and the injustice of systemic racism, this is very much what we need. We don’t just need re-wonderment of the world but re-wonderment of our view of God and a re-wonderment of our impressions of the people we share the planet with too.
There are three dimensions to awe and wonder that we and our congregations need to be inspired by:
First, there is the wonder of a God who is hidden in every aspect of creation
Second, there is the wonder of God hidden deep within our soul, slowly transforming us and making us whole
Third, there is the wonder of a God whose nature is laid bare in the pain and suffering of our world.
When was the last time you sat in awe of God’s greatness or jumped in excitement and shouted your praise to God, believing that God still performs miracles of provision and healing?
Over the last few months I have developed what I call my “awe and wonder routine” to help me focus more deliberately on our truly awe-inspiring God and what God is doing in the world. Entering into wonder as an intentional daily practice has changed me in ways I never anticipated, filling me with joy and a delight in life I never expected, especially in the midst of our current traumatic situation.
My husband Tom and I begin our day with what I call an “awe and wonder walk.” These have become the mainstay of my spiritual life, giving me peace in the midst of chaos and strength when I feel overwhelmed.
As we walk I focus intentionally on the awe and wonder of what I see, naming what fills me with joy. At the moment it is the daffodils just starting to emerge. I savor these sights and the revelation of God in their midst. When I get home I often find a prayer or a poem bubbles up inside me as a response.
This doesn’t mean I naively see only good things around me, but I do find that the delight of these walks makes me receptive to the pain and suffering of our world without succumbing to compassion fatigue and the scarring of the trauma others are experiencing.
Look back over the last week or month with the wide-eyed wonder of a child. You can use these questions for personal reflection or to lead a congregation in this exercise:
- What, in this time of lockdown has inspired and awed you—about God, about the world in which we live, about the people you have met and worked with and about the cultures you have interacted with?
- Where do you see God entering into your pain and the pain of your communities?
There is no limit to the aspects of this world that can help us experience awe and wonder and provide us with the tools we need to better engage in the pain and suffering of those around us. We do live in a wonderful world with a wonderful God. All we need to do is to open our eyes and take notice.
About the Author
Christine Aroney-Sine is a contemplative activist, passionate gardener, author, and liturgist. Christine loves messing with spiritual traditions and inspiring followers of Jesus to develop creative approaches to spirituality that intertwine the sacred through all of life. She is the founder and facilitator for the popular contemplative blog godspacelight.com. Her most recent book is The Gift of Wonder: Creative Practices for Delighting in God. (IVP 2019)
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