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Let’s Talk: About Wonder

Photo of Daniel Ross-JonesOn a shelf in my study, in visible sight of my desk, I have a handcrafted piece of art created and given to me by a friend of mine from a prior ministry setting. With white wooden letters embossed against a white canvas background, on three lines, it reads: Wonder Fully Made. Depending on the moment I glance at it, the spacing leads me to consider its multiple meanings separately.

Inspired by the Psalmist, who writes of the intimate knowledge God has of God’s creation, I most often read it with a silent comma: “wonder, fully made.” (I’m a UCCer, after all. More commas are always more.) That we who are God’s created are created precisely for a life full of wonder.

I find that there are two kinds of people in the world – or, perhaps more accurately, two kinds of people among whom I spend my time: those who respond to wonder by seeking out what other wonder-ers have already identified, and those who respond to wonder by appreciating wonder for its own sake.

I place myself firmly in the first camp. My wondering curiosity leads me to books, articles, podcasts, and all the other artifacts of the intelligentsia. My response to wonder is to seek an understanding, preferably one that articulates a framework which can be transferrable to different spaces and places. Wonder is an impulse that demands an active response toward some kind of resolution which provides a lasting contribution to the conversation.

Others, including my husband, are members of the second camp. These are people for whom wonder itself is the destination.

In the early days of the pandemic and sheltering in place, I would be working in the study when Andy would call for me. I’d meet him in the dining room where he’d be watching different birds in the backyard and changes in their behavior through the patio door. He’d wonder aloud about particular behavior, and I’d come back to the study and Google birding websites and academic journals about the specific species of birds and their behaviors.

When I had an answer from the experts and went back to tell him, he’d give me a puzzled look and ask why I was telling him this information. “Because you were wondering,” I’d respond. He’d smile and say, “but I wasn’t wondering for an answer.”

The full passage from the Psalmist (139:13-14) reads: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

Which reminds me of a third group of people, those for whom fear has displaced wonder. This is a group of people who cling so tightly to that which is already known that wonder in any form, as that which is unknown-in-this-moment, is an existential threat.

Last week I wrote to you about being human, about being limitless precisely because of human limitation. About resisting the urge to be superhuman when humanness is more than enough. About how Mary Oliver’s wonder – what will I do with my one wild and precious life – has so often prompted me to action and response out of urgency, without pausing for a moment to consider whether that urgency is what I must do to respond most fully to my limited, human experience.

I wonder about the places where my impulse to act – whether I’m acting on a perceived sense of urgency or a reasoned curiosity – is a coping mechanism for a fearful anxiety? After all, so long as I am busying my mind and my hands with something productive, I don’t often have much time left to consider my motivation.

And while we wonder, however it is that we wonder, we must also acknowledge the equal balance of fear – for wonder can be destructive, heretical, even a tad reckless.

I wonder if that’s part of the wonder the Psalmist is getting at, recognizing just how often fear and wonder are joined together as one. And that the same God who wondered us into being might also know a little something about fear, too.


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