A Posture of Wonder

Lent, this time around the sun, has gotten me in a particularly reflective mood. While I accept that the occasion should be an on-ramp for self-reflection, confession, and repentance in preparation for Holy Week, I keep on coming back to the image of God as one who stoops. An image that biblical authors repeat over and over again is that of a God who kneels in gardens and at the side of the road alike, infusing meaning into dust through breath or through the written word.

If God is a God who likes to play in the dirt, the dirt from which we all come from, and to which we all return, then I wonder how much purpose and intention the Divine has infused into every aspect of that which we refer to as Creation. How much attention and care went into laying the groundwork to make trees, nebulae, quantum computing, modern medicine, and the banana slug eventual possibilities in terms of configurations of particles? How much in terms of sustaining it? Redeeming it?

The author Cole Arthur Riley argues that when it comes to wonder, it “is an exercise, both a doing and a being. It is a spiritual muscle of our humanity that we can only keep from atrophying if we exercise it habitually.”[1] However, many of us don’t take time regularly to exercise this muscle. Though, she argues, it’s not our fault entirely.

Riley observes that many people on the margins of society don’t have capacity for wonder, as they, along with many others have been “ushered into sixty-hour workweeks and minimum wage jobs” resulting in one’s body “spinning… into chaos with the habits and expectations of the dominating culture, giving and doing and working.”[2]

When we are conditioned to move through life at ninety miles an hour, the world blurs together. The meaning and distinctiveness of things gets muddled. But, in order to practice wonder, we are invited to look deeper at things. As Barbara Brown Taylor recalls, within certain faith traditions, the act of blessing starts with naming the innate goodness of a thing in its distinctive thingness.[3]

John Green, in his most recent book, exemplifies this quality, musing about the nature of sunsets and the role they play in his own self-knowledge:

“I think it’s helpful to know how sunsets work. I don’t buy the romantic notion that scientific understanding somehow robs the universe of its beauty, but I still can’t find language to describe how breathtakingly beautiful sunsets are–not breathtakingly, actually, but breath-givingly beautiful. All I can say is that sometimes when the world is between day and night, I’m stopped cold by its splendor, and I feel my absurd smallness. You’d think that would be sad, but it isn’t. It only makes me grateful.”[4]

And in this, I wonder, is our task – to not just see the world around us, but to also feel the world around us, to move our gaze from out there to one another as just as wonder-full. To stay and behold one another even in messiness, brokenness, and suffering. To love one’s neighbor as oneself, Jesus might say. Riley notes:

“Wonder includes the capacity to be in awe of humanity, even your own. It allows us to jettison the dangerous belief that things worthy of wonder can only be located on nature hikes and scenic overlooks. This can distract us from the beauty flowing through us daily. For every second that our organs and bones sustain us is a miracle. When those bones heal, when our wounds scab over, this is our call to marvel at our bodies—their regeneration, their stability or frailty. This grows our sense of dignity. [5]

I suppose this is one of the reasons why Lent is important. Lent is, at least, an important invitation for me in recentering my attention, by inviting me to exercise wonder of a God who plays with dust. It is a season to reckon with my mortality and yet to rest in the truth that God inspires and sustains all creation, thinking of ways to partner as a creative co-creator and tender to creation. “To be able to marvel at the face of our neighbor,” Riley concludes, “with the same awe we have for the mountaintop, the sunlight refracting—this manner of vision is what will keep us from destroying each other.” By inviting us to a season of pausing to behold that which is around us and within us, to regard those before us and those who we are, Lent invites us to study each thing in the world holds, crafted lovingly from dust, naming its goodness in a form of blessing.

[1] Cole Arthur Riley, This Here Flesh

[2] Ibid.

[3] Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World.

[4] John Green, The Anthropocene Reviewed

[5] Riley.


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