Stop and Wonder
And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. —Hebrews 11:32—34
The steadfast faithfulness that the author of Hebrews writes about in chapters 11 and 12 is as awe-inspiring as the parting of the Red Sea, the collapsing walls of Jericho, or the deliverance of the land of Canaan into the hands of the Israelites. This kind of faith is indeed a wonder. When you stop and think about the things that happened to the “Great Cloud of Witnesses” that Hebrews acknowledges—not to mention the stories of the ‘saints’ in our churches and in our lives—you have to stop and say WOWl
Seriously, when you actually stop and think about it, you cannot help but be amazed at what men and women can accomplish, can endure, and can turn to triumph, when they live by faith and not by sight! Of course the operative phrase here it, “When you stop and think about it.” It takes time and attention to be attentive to wonder. It takes a bit of effort to clear a path so that we can be amazed.
It is easy to allow the increasing cynicism of our culture and demystifying “scientism” erode our sense of wonder. Our ancestors used to go out to do what they called “marveling” in the world. They would go “marveling” and come back with evidence of their wonder. They would go “marveling” and come back with four-leaf clovers or unique butterflies or shimmering seashells. In fact, they would put the triumphs of their “marvelings” in “wonder cabinets”, display shelves of curiosities that served as momentary museums to the miraculous, giving their owners the chance for a daily dose of wonderment and marveling.
Of course, children (and elders) teach us a lot about wondering. They are always stopping and picking up wonder-full stuff like rocks and bugs and leaves and flowers. And some of us grown-ups are also inclined to be attentive to the miraculous in the ordinary. Usually these are people who are spiritually grounded and are looking for God in the world. You know people like this! I have noticed that after a thunderstorm I discover multiple celebratory photos of rainbows with the requisite notation of amazement posted by friends on facebook. And perhaps because of the ease of posting to that venue, there seems to be an increasing collection of photos of my friends’ awe inspiring trips to the beach, lake, mountains; their breathtaking experiences of brilliant sunrises and glorious sunsets; their wonder at the delicate grace of butterflies and colorful pop of flowers in their gardens; and the heart pumping thrill of glittering, thundering fireworks. I love seeing their photos, I love that they are stopping to record it and I love the sense of wonder inherent in it all.
The truth is, we can all develop a genuine sense of wonder when we cultivate an openness to all that cannot be understood, all which can scarcely be believed. Bernal Diaz, who accompanied Cortés on the conquest of Mexico and subsequently recorded the adventure in his The Conquest of New Spain, at one point similarly recalls the Spaniards’ first spellbound vision of the Aztec capital: “Gazing on such wonderful sights, we did not know what to say, or whether what appeared before us was real” (Lawrence Weschler, Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder [New York: Pantheon, 1995], 80-81).
Genuine wonder stops your heart, sucks away your breath, robs you of your speech, freezes you in your tracks. Genuine wonder strikes your psyche without warning and flattens your cool consciousness with a sucker punch.
You might say that to have the kind of faithfulness that the author of Hebrews wrote about is really to have a sense of wonder—for isn’t faithfulness also about being open to that which cannot be understood, that which cannot be seen, that which can scarcely be seen? Stop and think about this text from Hebrews—to have faith and to wonder:
- is to have courage and stamina in the face of persecution.
- is to stand up for God when all the powers around you insist that you sit down.
- is to discover the experience of pain and deprivation less real than “the assurance of things hoped for” and “the conviction of things not seen” (11:1).
- is to realize that generations past, like a “great cloud of witnesses,” surround us at all times with the testimony of their faithfulness.
Beloved, there is wonder in the air all around us and wonder in the cloud of witnesses that has gone before us on this spiritual journey. I wonder, when is the last time you went marveling? What is in your wonder cabinet? By faith, let us look for the beauty and power of it all. By faith, let your mind be blown by God’s beauty. By faith, let yourself be blown away by God’s bounty. By faith, let yourself be Wow-ed by God’s bevy of blessings.
Rev. Wendy Miller Olapade