Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Cultivating Wonder

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
   and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. [Psalm 19:1]

An anole, bright green, presses himself against the  stem of my plumeria, hiding in plain sight. It's been there all summer, my plumeria pal. It knows, now, that I see it and doesn't immediately skitter away each time, but lets me take a picture. It's not exactly a pet, but a companion to greet me many days this summer. I smile when I see it.

Sunsets are both extraordinary and common----they happen daily but still offer something new each time. Just last night, I saw a sunset with layers of clouds, lower ones dark, illuminated from the other side, higher ones glowing like coals in a dying fire. One of these, elongated and parallel to the horizon, had a shadow across the middle of it, a dark stripe in the glow. Farther off was a more vertical cloud, I saw, throwing a shadow across the the horizontal one. Surely this happens now and then, and yet I'd not noticed anything like it before. There's always something new to notice. 

One evening, I was walking to my apartment after dark and noticed something moving on the sidewalk, a bug. I squatted down to get a closer look. I didn't immediately recognize it but took some pictures of it. It was covered with dirt, as if it had just crawled out of the ground. Taking a better look at it once I was inside, and getting confirmation from Facebook friends, I realized that this was a cicada, on its way to climb a tree and shed its exoskeleton, to stretch it's new wings and buzz off into the night. Like any number of children who grow up in cicada country, I've found hundreds, maybe thousands of the abandoned exoskeletons on tree trunks and I've been fascinated by the delicate remains of metamorphosis. This was the first time in my life, as best as I can recall, that I saw one still in that shell, moving toward it's transformation. It seems odd that it should happen after five decades, but I'm delighted to have seen it.

I take a lot of pictures. I don't fancy myself a photographer, exactly---I know a few and I know they go about it with a different mindset, a different attitude and certainly with much better tools than I have or aspire to have. I'm also clumsy especially with my new phone. These touch screens find me tapping unintentionally. Every once in a while, I find I've taken a picture accidentally. Most of them are you average up-nostril or blurry shoe shots, but occasionally something happens wherein I have no idea what it is and it has the appearance an abstract expressionist vision. I sometimes post these to Facebook with a line like, "Please enjoy this photograph. I don't know what it is." Creativity often follows, as some friends will interpret with wild fancy and invention.  

These are some ways that I cultivate wonder. Awe. Given as I am to melancholy, given as I am to despair over news stories of endless brutality around the world, I find I have to do this. It is a choice. Wonder comes more easily to some than to others and perhaps it comes easier to me than to some, and yet I find I have to purposefully look out for the extraordinary in the world or else the horrors of the world crush me. The cultivation of awe is not an escape from the work of speaking against the horror. It is the sustenance that allows for yet another difficult conversation about racism, classism, brutality, and the need for compassion. 

I'd say I cultivate wonder to feed and strengthen compassion.

What strikes me as wonderful and awesome may not be what sustains you and feeds your compassion. What I do know is that we need more compassion in the world, more empathy, more willingness to live with others who are different from ourselves. The world can be a terrifying place, indeed, there are some terrifying people in it. But our tradition tells us that love casts out fear. 

And like wonder, we have to practice love. It may have to begin with a lizard or a bug, but they are practices.

I'm writing to remind myself. I have to practice these things. I forget sometimes. Often. 

But the grace inherent in any small discovery can be enough to sustain us. There are wonders all around us, even in my concrete environment of Houston. I believe these are signs of God's grace breaking through, reminding me that the heavens tell of God's glory. So does a muddy bug, crawling on it's way toward release and flight. 

God's grace and glory---I have to turn my head and heart---repent---to see it some days. Other days it pops up in front of me, unexpected. Such are my main sources for hope that the world can be saved. 

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