Through the Eyes of Wonder

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There’s much more to a sense of wonder than meets the eye. It’s one of the most precious gifts of being alive, even in this time of personal and global challenge.

Join me this week as we consider the nature of wonder and how to bring it back. It may be more important than you realize, especially now.

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To paraphrase Albert Einstein as he wrote about experiencing the mysterious, if we’re no longer able to stop and spend moments in wonder—no longer able to stand wrapped in a sense of awe— we’re not being truly alive.

Yet, for many people in this time of pandemic, the notion of wonder seems extremely farfetched. For them, this is a time of fear and confusion during which they ask some of the deepest questions anyone can ask.

As Covid cases continue to rise in unprecedented numbers and news sources offer conflicting reports about measures being put into place across the country, or vaccines, or the possibility of lockdowns, I’m hearing a range of struggles among those I counsel.

“Will we ever have a normal life again?” one client asked me. “My husband and I fear what the future could look like for us and for our children.”

Her sense of dread is intensified as we head into what will unquestionably be one of the strangest and most socially isolated holiday seasons we’ve ever experienced.

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Yet, taking all that into consideration, must we necessarily lose our sense of wonder in the face of uncertainty? Or are there ways of keeping it very much alive? Could it be that there are ways of feeding awe and wonder and ways of dancing with them every day? In fact, could looking at life through the eyes of wonder help us find the resilience and joy and enthusiasm we need to thrive and live well right now?

I challenge that awe and wonder are exactly the medicines we need.

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 photo: Scott Lennox


As I think of wonder, one of my stand-out memories is a Christmas decades ago. On Christmas eve, my two younger sisters, seven and eight at the time, were so excited about what would be under the tree on Christmas morning that we couldn’t get them to go to bed. As Mother tried to calm them down, a fanciful idea occurred to me.

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Among my collected oddities, I had a leather strap of sleigh bells that I quietly carried to the roof, where I positioned myself right over their bedroom window. As I rhythmically shook the bells, I heard my sisters crying out, “Santa!” followed by a loud thump. Mother later told me that they dived into their beds and pulled the blankets over their heads. Within minutes, they were both sound asleep.

As you might imagine, the next morning was filled with such excitement and surprise and expressions of wonder that I will never forget it. By the way, it would be another twenty years before I told them the truth about what happened on the roof that night. We still laugh about it.

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Wonder is the state in which we open ourselves to surprise and discovery and to learning something new. It is in the state of wonder that we “know that we don’t know” and in which we are delighted to experience what comes next. It’s in wonder that we stand in the doorway of the mysterious, peering in. And it’s in wonder that, if we’re courageous enough, we step beyond our “everyday” selves and into something magical.

For the past forty years, I’ve been speaking publicly and leading groups of many kinds. At the end of every one of them—without exception—I have put my palms together in a gesture of prayer and honoring and hope, saying, “Go be wonderful!” What I’m really saying is, “Go be full of wonder! Go be curious! And then come back and tell me all about it, because I’m curious too!”

Just now, I’m thinking of the ending of the poem Wild Geese, by the late Mary Oliver. She wrote, “Whoever you, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting – over and over announcing your place in the family of things.”

Her wise counsel is especially true when we’re feeling despair.

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So, as a working premise, let’s agree that our imagination is intact—yours and mine—and that we already know many of the places to find or rediscover wonder, and that there are opportunities for it all around us.

In the form of this week’s Beautiful Questions, here are a few examples to get you started.

When was the last time you stopped to drink in the sunrise or the sunset, listening to what was happening around you as deeply as you can?

While the Leonid meteor shower is underway, have you given yourself the gift of stepping out into the dark and look up?

If you can’t get there in person, what awesome locations would you like to visit in a virtual tour?

If you can get there in person, where might you go to stand in nature and experience how truly vast and beautiful it is and how perfectly you fit into that place?

When was the last time you sat with someone you care about and silently looked into their eyes long enough to experience what is beneath the surface, allowing them to see you as well?

What foods, regardless how simple or complex, arrest your senses and bring you to a stop, and when will you allow yourself the joy of that wonder-filled indulgence?

How deeply have you dared to contemplate the wonder—the miracle, in fact—that you can listen to this—that you can see and hear and that your brain can make sense of what you perceive— that your mind can recognize and retain it, and that your emotions can be dazzled and delighted?

And finally, if the gifts of sight and hearing and intelligence and the other things I’ve suggested don’t bring you to wonder, what will?

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Honoring the child that is still alive in each of us, I invite you to contemplate these questions, perhaps several times, as you go through your week. I’ll be interested to hear, or should I say, “I’m wondering,” what will show up.
Write and tell me about it.

As I say each week,
My Light with Your Light

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