I was driving home last week and was awestruck by a winter sunset. My breath hitched and I gasped, “Wow!” as my eyes traced the purple, orange and pink clouds swirling in an intricate dance. For a few minutes, my mind quieted from review of the day, plans for dinner and the latest divisive and adversarial talk coming from Washington, D.C. Instead, I breathed in beauty. And time seemed to stop. I just experienced the spirituality of wonder.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “It takes three things to attain a sense of significant being: God, a Soul, and a Moment. And the three are always here.” The spirituality of wonder draws us out of ourselves and allows us to live in the moment. The reality is it’s too easy not to fully inhabit our priceless moments.
Omid Safi writes, “Awe is such a quintessentially marvelous quality of living an enchanted life. Awe, like love, is not even an emotion. It is, above all, a way of being in the world. It is a way of being with God, soulfully.”
Sacred Life, Full of Wonder
The spirituality of wonder opens our eyes to the sacredness of life that pulls us out of taking for granted the day, the hour, even a single breath of our lives. In her book “Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers,” Anne Lamott puts it much more poetically:
“Wonder takes our breath away and makes room for a new breath. That’s why they call it breathtaking.”
Think about the story of Moses in the Judeo-Christian Exodus narrative: Moses, on the run from Pharaoh, goes about his normal on-the-down-low-day of shepherding sheep in the Midian wilderness, when suddenly he is brought short by a bush the appears to be on fire but doesn’t burn. Awestruck, he takes off his shoes and the earth beneath his feet becomes “holy ground” (see Exodus 3:2-6). We know how the story ends — Moses encounters God, “I am that I am.” His experience of wonder changes his spiritual journey, maybe even begins his spiritual life. How many burning bushes have I walked by because I didn’t expect God to show up in my ordinary life?
What makes you gasp in amazement? Hands down for me, it’s sunrises and sunsets. The beauty of nature helps me back to the sacred present and God. But beauty can come in different shapes and sounds. Holding a newborn baby makes my heart well with grateful wonder. Hearing “Ave Maria” sung by Andrea Bocelli. Visiting Chicago’s Art Institute and seeing the deep blue of Marc Chagall’s transcendent glass window titled “America Windows.” What makes you gasp in wonder?
Celebrating beauty and creating beauty are a marvelous form of self-care, especially during times when our world feels cold or poisonous. It’s a way of restoring our balance and guarding against cynicism. When my parents retired, my dad started attending pottery classes as the local community college. The creativity fed his old, detailed accountant’s soul in new ways. Retirement is a marvelous time to slow down to feed your soul with art, music and nature.
At Pilgrim Manor, we offer a watercolor class. For some, it continues their artistic lives. For others, this is their first experience at creating art. What they say as they reflect on that experience is “of the art touching their souls, of time standing still, of the joy of actually making something beautiful.” Recognizing the power of art, the majority of our United Church Homes communities are certified in Opening Minds through Art. Monet didn’t begin to paint his gardens until he was at least 60. Why not try art in your “active wisdom” decades following age 60? You might surprise yourself!
Exercise and Wonder as Spiritual Practices
The spirituality of exercise and the spirituality of wonder often join hands. Take a walk in the woods and you might discover how walking as the sun dapples the trees and the wind whispers in your ear brings wonder and renews your sense of your own interconnection with the world and God.
It takes practice to cultivate a sense of wonder and radical amazement. But our breaths of awe help us locate the sacred in our ordinary lives. Our awe connects us to our humanity — body and soul, heart and mind. May we be filled with wonder, and live an awesome life one breath at a time.