I Believe in Wonder
I’ve always been a “Wow!” kind of person. On a geology field trip in college through the Colorado Plateau, it became something of a joke in our van every time I would “Wow” at something we drove past. I was “wowing” my way across the West. I recall standing in awe at the broad sweeping cross-beds of the sandstone cliff in Canyon de Shelly, and listening transfixed to the dull thudding of huge boulders rolling along the bottom of the Colorado River in the depths of the Grand Canyon. I can’t help that I am stopped–arrested–at times by the incredible beauty of nature. If I have one belief that springs from me, it is this belief in wonder.
Some beliefs come from conviction and form an edge of tempered steel for the believer, but my belief is more about what is inside me like a compass that points to true north. The wonder I believe in is not a conscious act on my part like going to church or actively trying to do the right thing. This belief is a response.
I’ll share two examples. The first happened yesterday as I was playing tennis. The South Texas sky was clear blue, washed clean by recent rains, and a steady breeze blew across the court from the east. A buzzard gliding in the air caught my attention, and I pointed it out to my son because it had silver wing tips. Then I saw it—above the buzzard by 100 feet soared a red-tailed hawk. It looked majestic with is wings spread wide, hardly seeming to move them as it circled. My head craned upward and the tennis match was forgotten as I watched the suspended bird. “Wow,” I said (probably more than once). Often nature takes me by surprise like this, but other times I return to some well-known place like visiting a friend. On cool autumn or winter nights, and the sky is clear, I like to go out and look at Orion’s Belt. I never cease to love looking at the three stars in a straight line and the curving scabbard at his side. But what I look most at it Sirius, the dog star–Orion’s dog–trailing just to the side of Orion. For millennia, the star was seen as a bad omen, bringing plagues and bad luck. Homer over 2500 years ago compared the star to the shine of Achilles’ armor seen by Priam from afar as Achilles raced to confront Hector before the walls of Troy. It is the brightest star in the night sky, and I never tire of wondering at it.
The poet Ranier Maria Rilke in “The Duino Elegies” said, “Everything here apparently needs us, this fleeting world, which in some strange way keeps calling to us. Us, the most fleeting of all.” The deep wonder I feel, I believe, is this calling Rilke talks about. Within my feelings of wonder, also, is a reaching out and meeting, even co-mingling, with the object of wonder. In this modern life where we rush within cubicles and virtual networks, I believe it is worth it to be open to the wonder around us—I believe in “Wow.”
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