The State of Wonder

Wonder is a state of mind in which we do not look at reality through the latticework of our memorized knowledge, and in which nothing is taken for granted…

Wonder, rather than doubt, is the root of all knowledge… – Abraham Joshua Heschel


When we feel this emotion we call wonder, we lose every desire to dominate, or to exploit another, or to call attention to ourselves.

Wonder sweeps us upward, and we are left wanting only to praise this world and this life we share, and to celebrate with all our family.

With wonder, we lose any willingness we may have ever had to possess any one or any thing- we see how absurd that would be – like trying to fit an ocean into a tiny teacup.

Wonder then, is a door that opens to this endlessly greater world we share.

I’ve seen photos of the sky at dawn in the desert of the South West, here in the United States, and I understood right away why the lives of native peoples are woven with reverence. I’ve seen those extraordinary, living colors too, and I can say that it’s as though they breathe. In their immediacy, they bring us the feeling that we are held, and that we are living in a truly divine world.

Without such beauty, we know with certainty right then and there, the soul or the inner life of a person would be very much closed in on itself. We can see so clearly that, absent joy, we humans experience and cause so much unnecessary suffering and hardship. All this begins to change in a moment when we feel wonder, even a little bit of it.

It is intimated, even in Winter, or in times of drought or plague, This soul is a garden that can blossom magnificently, and offer delight to everyone we meet, and it is here, with this insight, that we find our breath returning.

If you see someone without any ease or happiness evident, oh, you can be sure, they are without wonder. At least for a time, it is like deepest Winter for them, or, like they are stricken with drought, and so I implore you, I implore you!, Pray for rain! Pray the rain and sun be known by them! Join in their broken prayers, their desperate cries!

What this world and all those who live in it need is to be fed; we are beings of light, and light is our sustenance. Without question, this what makes us healthy and strong, and humble, and honest, and straightforward; we then become willing and able to take our neighbor’s hand, and to meet their gaze, and to walk them home.

It’s a privilege to be here, an honor, and when we know this, with all the awe and wonder we feel, we naturally find ourselves dedicated to restorative justice; without having to be told from any external source, we each become stewards of this wondrous earth, and all we’ve received, for the sake of future generations.

I remember now, it was Autumn, 1997, and I was walking along the road in the foothills of Rishikesh, North India. Looking up as the clouds parted and the Himalayas were revealed, I found myself every few steps saying, Wow… or, Waahhh… and, I tell you, this literally went on for hours. I remember smiling also when I noticed how the local people set up chairs outside to watch the light on this supreme mountain range, much as anyone would watch a show. I could tell they were being fed by all of this beauty, surely.

When we feel wonder again, we know that this is our natural state, that we people have somehow, incredibly, strayed from. We see with new eyes, and everything else then, at least for a time, seems like madness. After all, who would willingly be so deprived?

Whenever people are petty, or lacking gratitude, then it’s a sure sign that there is no wonder awake in them at that time. So many things in this world, after all, can bring a person into this state of grace. There are an endless number of things, in fact! – here are just a few to start us remembering again:

the sight of a beautiful child, at any time; the stars and half moon… really seeing the gift of art, seeing the movement of the trees in the wind, or flowers… hearing music, reading poetry, or remembering something of what we have received from heroes, saints and saviors, from our parents and teachers. Suddenly, the world opens and reveals itself to us, in all its endless beauty and mystery, and depth.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel also said that:

Awareness of the divine begins with wonder

and this is something the heart knows.

The truth is, there is nothing small or insignificant here, despite what our oh-so-ordinary state of mind believes. Those lacking faith may regain it though, and that’s the good news here – the holy amen hallelujah. Half a day awake to these truths should be enough to convince anyone, and to turn them into ardent believers.

See how it is: for those still sleeping, the world is flat, affectless, an impoverished place, where we have to struggle for every little scrap of pleasure or significance. Compared to this exalted state we call wonder, materialism, and so much of what passes for religious teaching also comes across as grim, and calculating, and offering just a bare finger tip’s worth of what really matters. That such things hold appeal, I’m thinking now, must be because of the great need for any light at all in this wilderness that is our modern world.

But it’s this way: when you hear music, you want to dance, or sing along; and when you see something like the Northern Lights, you want to do whatever it takes to wake your family and neighbors and share the majesty with them.

Whatever dampens our enthusiasm and joy then should be shunned, and denounced, and driven from our homes, and communities. Envy and competition, small minded arrogance and putting others down has no place in this celebration, where everyone is invited to open in their own, incomparable way, and to share in this grace.

I remember now how it’s this way with the great joy of playing music too: we may not share a language or religion or gender or life experience, but this common ground of wonder so beautifully reminds us once again, beyond question, that we are all family. There’s a profound intimacy we can know, that for a time at least quiets all conflict and division, and all of those so common lesser values and identities. For a time today, we may step out into the open, inviting others, all of us reclaiming our noble heritage here on earth, and our original dignity and place in world.