We have a hummingbird feeder in front of our house. Throughout the day, the Anna’s Hummingbirds in our neighborhood will come and hover to feed and then flit away. They are amazing little creatures who weigh slightly more than a penny, yet migrate thousands of miles. They incite in me — when I bother to pay attention for the few seconds one is in sight — a sense of wonder.
Wonder, awe, amazement, marvel, bewilderment, and astonishment. These are not categories we typically place our daily observations, actions, and experiences into. We are doers. We are explainers. We are not usually appreciators. When we do pause to appreciate, it is often only in the shallow sense of how something makes us feel, not in what it is apart from us.
God, however, is not always so transparently pragmatic. At times, he desires us to just be present with him and to him. There is a time for everything, a time to do and a time to just be.
When we think of wonder in our CGI special-effects age, we often think it has to be bigger than life, novel, and over-powering. If our sense of wonder is only triggered by the next bigger thing, though, we will quickly lose all wonder. That kind of wow has its limits.
Wonder can come from a blade of grass or a single burning candle. A verse, or partial verse, of Scripture can capture our heart and mind. The way the light highlights a certain subtle feature of a child’s face.
To open ourselves to wonder is to open ourselves to living in a God-saturated world. To allow ourselves to believe not only in an all-powerful, all-knowing, unmoved mover, but also the God who comes as a still small voice in the midst of quiet.
Wonder used to be the province of children and the elderly, since working-age adults and parents are challenged to have the time and attitude necessary for it. Children, surrounded by a world that is new around every corner, and the elderly with more time to sit, think, and watch, tended to be the keepers of wonder. But now, as I see ever-younger children toting smartphones and tablets, I fear for our capacity to wonder. As these succeeding generations come of age, will they have any memory of wonder to call them back to the practice when they are consigned to a rocking chair watching their grandchildren in the yard?
To cultivate wonder is largely a passive activity. In order to experience it, we must be unhurried. We must be open. We need to allow it, not try to do it. We can’t demand that God wow us. To have a sense of wonder is to be humble, to feel immensely small in so great a universe and yet simultaneously awe-struck that God knows our name and listens to our prayers.
Historically, this sense of deep wonder is called contemplation. Much has been written on it, yet to read about it is to be in danger of trying to do it. Telling someone to go be awestruck by the sunset tonight doesn’t work. The closest we can get to bringing someone else into wonder is the hushed, “C’mere, you have to see this,” that we reserve for deer on the front lawn, young siblings cuddled together in the playroom, and other such unplanned moments of awe.
We can’t do wonder, but we can be open to it. Ask God to make you open to the wonder of him, his creation, and ultimately, his love.
Gracious Lord, creator of heaven and earth, grant that I may be still enough to see, quiet enough to hear, and aware enough to shift my attention to you. Teach me to live in awareness of you and the ways you demonstrate your love all around me, that I may be with you and you with me, as you are with your Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forevermore, Amen.