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Astonishment and Wonder
Deborah Beach Giordano
© October 10, 2016
Psalm 19 ~ retold by Deborah
The heavens proclaim the glory of God and the earth reveals the divine handiwork, always and ever, day after day, year after year; shouted by the oceans, whispered by the stars; echoing across the cosmos, to the end of the world, to the end of the age.
Each dawn the sun emerges as radiant as a mother with her newborn child, gently kissing all creation into wakefulness. It illuminates the snowy mountain peaks and the sand-coated deserts, the forests and fields, the cities that never sleep and the drowsy rural villages; shining upon the good and the bad alike; giving warmth and life to all it touches.
When God’s word is spoken the people rejoice; the divine decrees are understood by children, bringing joy to the heart, strengthening the weary, healing and reviving the soul.
God’s teachings are simple and lasting, gracious and kind and filled with compassion; enlightening those who hear and understand.
Holy Wisdom is wealth far beyond diamonds and rubies, more perfect than the most flawless pearl; sweeter than chocolate-dipped almonds, and honey direct from the hive.
The divine lessons are bearers of great blessings, following them is its own reward. But it is easy to overlook one’s own faults and failings. How are we to know?
Gracious One, Open my eyes to the lies and deceptions that tempt me to hate and fear — and to forget that it is You who are God, not me.
Don’t let me fall into the abyss of snap judgments or be snared by smug self-satisfaction. Illuminate my soul with Your holy wisdom, and warm my heart with Your love, that I may always follow the glorious Way that leads to You.
No Bowl Games? That’s Not New Year!
Today is nearly the midpoint of the festival of Rosh Hashanah. Most of us know it as the “Jewish New Year,” and pretty much leave it at that. If we think about it at all, we’re likely to decide it is an extremely boring celebration, devoid of fireworks or floats or football games (or hangovers).
While it’s true that Rosh Hashanah is quite different — quietly different, we might say — from our “worldly” New Year celebrations, actually quite a lot goes on.
There are nine days of preparation that lead to the actual New Year’s day of Yom Kippur. During this time the faithful are called to self-reflection, repentance, and prayer; it is an opportunity for renewal and refreshment: a way to begin the new year with a clean slate, so to speak.
There is a great deal more to the season, of course; including profound theological underpinnings outside my training or authority to describe. So I hope that my Jewish friends will forgive me if I borrow from their tradition (yet again!) to give some further thought to our own.
Days of Awe
What started me on this line of thinking is the fact that Rosh Hashanah is also referred to as “the Days of Awe.” How cool is that? Imagine dedicating ten whole days to the practice of astonishment and wonder.
Imagine waking up each morning with the intention of being in awe of Creation; expecting to be thrilled and amazed at what comes to you throughout the day; giving thanks in advance for the glories you are certain that you will see. It would be an entirely different experience from our ordinary way of being.
When the alarm clock goes off, we would not moan and groan and stumble blindly in the direction of the coffee (or tea) pot, numb to every sensation except our general lack of enthusiasm. Instead we would awaken to our wakefulness: amazed by the facility of sound traveling through the air, and the miraculous capability of our ears to hear; delighted by our mobility, astonished at the interworkings of our muscles and bones and sinews as we emerged from our bed.
In the kitchen we would be thrilled by the water that comes from the tap, by the fact that heat makes it come to a boil, and deeply grateful for our ability to taste the beverage that is produced. We would rejoice in the air that we breathe, in our lungs that take it in, and in our hearts that are constantly beating.
If we lived that way, we would be so amazed and thankful that all our days would indeed be “days of awe.”
From Awe-filled to Awful
But it is hard — probably impossible — to sustain that degree of aware appreciation of our blessings: other people, things, and situations demand our attention, and their urgency pulls us away from our focus on joy or thankfulness. It is hard to be grateful when the children are squabbling, the parking lot is full, the computers are down, the basement is flooded, the printer is out of toner, your coworker wants to argue about politics … Things can go from awe-filled to awful pretty fast.
We live in a perfection-oriented world; films, television and advertising seek to convince us that any discomfort, distress, or limitation is unacceptable and must be mended or medicated at once. They paint a picture of a painless and uncomplicated existence as the way life ought to be — and can be, through the purchase of the product or pill they are pushing — and if our situation is different, it’s awful! When we pull a muscle or sprain an ankle, develop a headache, or are struck down by the flu, we are consumed with misery, indignant at the weakness or suffering, viewing it a wrong visited upon us. (And in this, there is no greater sinner than yours truly.)
And yet, whatever may come, there are causes for gratitude and holy awe.
The glory of God surrounds us wherever we are; in the warmth of the sun, the twinkling of distant stars, the music of birds, the fragrance of fresh-mown grasses and rain-damp sidewalks, the kiss of gentle breezes, the tender smiles and unexpected kindnesses that lift our hearts. Even in the midst of sorrow and suffering God’s grace is there — though we may have to learn to look for it.
Perhaps the greatest teachers of amazement and gratitude are those who have suffered a severe illness or injury or addiction and recovered. Those who have been given “a second chance at life” cherish it as few others do; filled with gratitude at each new sunrise, delighted by clanking dishes and mewing kittens, thrilled by lights and shadows, songs and silence, and perfectly content to be stuck in traffic or be given the opportunity to clear another paper jam.
This ultimate understanding of awe may be found in those who are anticipating their final crossing-over to Eternity.
For the terminally ill and the aged — and the loved ones who journey alongside, each hour and every minute is precious, every word, every smile, every breath is sacred. Everything has value, all that lives is holy. It is as if we are suddenly, violently awakened from a stupor: as if we had been blind and now can see. We become intensely, vibrantly aware of the wondrous workings of our minds and bodies, and of the amazing nature of the absurdly abundant, ridiculously impractical, exquisitely beautiful, miraculous blue-green planet on which we live.
Divine beauty and grace are all around us, but it takes practice to develop the ability to truly see. It begins when we open our hearts to the sense of wonder, when we look with astonished joy at the beauty and mystery of God’s good creation.
The changing seasons are a reminder that all earthly life is transient, unpredictable, devoid of guarantees; no one knows the day or hour when we shall leave this place: it could be decades from now, or it might be tomorrow. It is never too late — or too early — for any of us to live in awe and gratitude.
Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,
Suggested Spiritual Exercise
Allow yourself to be amazed at the wonders all around you, beginning with your own body.