Perhaps the greatest loss we experience as we move from childhood into adult is losing our sense of wonder. Children are full of wonder. As children, our lives are naturally alert to the surprises, pleasures and beauty of life pulsating all around us. Children are quick to take delight in little things, like shiny stones along a river bank or the winter thrill of snowflakes.
Every year, our family returns to Olympic National Park in the summer for a week of hiking in the backcountry, usually journeying fifty miles on foot. That single week has done more to nourish my soul with a profound sense of wonder than any other week of the year. A few years ago, as we came off the trail, I picked up a copy of the Olympic National Park newspaper, “The Bugler”. There I found a quote from Socrates the Wise, who claimed, “The beginning of wisdom is wonder.” Months after returning from the high-country of the Olympics, I’ve feasted richly upon the sounds and sights of that week of wonder.
Wonder most often comes as a surprise. We wander into it unknowing. We gaze and gaze attempting to take in the sight of glory. Our words fall short; yet, our hearts well up with an inner sense of wonder. Thus, wonder is a twice blessed gift, giving delight in our first encounter with such fullness; and once again as we look with that inward eye, as Wordsworth wrote, ‘which is the bliss of solitude’. As we take time to reflect upon the vision of wonder, our hearts fill once again with pleasure and we discover ourselves dancing ‘with the daffodils’.
Besides summer hikes in the Olympics, the other time of the year that seem as charged with a sense of wonder is the month of December, during the season of Advent. As we celebrate the coming of Christ, our home begins to fill with those delights which come out only once a year. We cut snowflakes to put up on every window. We bring a fresh cut fir tree inside the home, decorating it with traditional ornaments, including Danish flags in honor of my wife’s cultural heritage. The air is filled with smells and sounds of the season, including spiced wine, Christmas cookies. Bedrooms become places full of delightful wonders, hiding gifts that will be wrapped and placed under the tree.
During Christmas, we expect the unexpected. We become children once again. We take time to wonder. In our return to childhood, we share together the delight of wonder. We look up into the clear December sky and think of that
When Mary birthed Jesus ’twas in a cow’s stall
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all
But high from God’s heaven, a star’s light did fall
And the promise of ages it then did recall.
On Christmas eve, we gather together, joined by a common sense of wonder at God’s generosity. We sing carols celebrating the coming of God into our darkened world to save ‘poor on’ry people, like you and like I’. We are all in need of saving grace. Instead of gratitude and wonder, we rush through our lives, taking little time to fall on our knees and hear the angels singing. We surround ourselves with layers upon layers of technology insulating our senses from the glory of creation, buffering our lives from being surprised by wonder. We’ve given up our innocence, trading in our childhood wonder for an office cubicle crammed with machines and worry.
How can we return? How can we find our way back to that five year old age of innocence where we might once again take delight in rain drops falling on our faces? Every year, I take a few teenage kids around our village, home to home, on a dark night in December to sing carols to widows. This event has helped recall for me the way back into wonder. We can travel together to that place of wonder. The way is illuminated by poetry and song. Sing together those lovely Christmas carols, even in July as you wander through a natural cathedral of ancient trees and allow your heart to wonder as you wander out under the sky.