We Wonder As We Wonder
I have always been curious as to why two people can look at the same majestic sunset and have very different reactions. Is one person more spiritual or more enlightened? While one person might be moved to tears by the wonder of the view, another might see the pinks and reds splashed in the sky and simply be reminded that they are hungry. And the next day it might be reversed! Wonder has always been a mystery to me because, quite frankly, I have been both the tearful one and the hungry one.
Wonder (n) – a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.
Wonder (v) to desire or be curious to know something, to inquire.
Some years ago, I had the privilege of teaching a group of seventh graders the book, To Kill A Mockingbird. I had long been keen to teach the text, as it had been a pivotal book in guiding my perspective on how, as a young teen, I viewed other people.
Hearing the story of another is always an invitation to wonder.
When I teach Literature, I take a rather different approach than most. The students do not read at home. Instead, we read the story out loud in class. We inquire of the text together. By that, I mean that during class the students take turns reading several paragraphs or pages at a time, after which, they put their books face down. Then, one student recalls what was just read in as much detail as possible using the author’s language. When the students finish recalling, I simply inquire to the class about an idea. For instance, “Tell me about the nature of injustice in this passage?” or, “Tell about the roots of racism in this town?” I do not answer the questions, just put the inquiry to the students.
When we first begun, some of the students felt odd in the silence created by an expansive question. However, I assured them that silence is both permissible and promising, and we continued.
After some time, the rhythm of the classroom became a daily, robust whirl of wonder at the unfolding elements of the story.
During each class, the students dug deeper into ideas like race, justice, friendship, love and hate. Their perspectives were called into question. The students wanted to know more, not just about the subject matter, but also, they wanted to understand how the ideas of the book intersected with their seventh grade lives. They talked about how harmful narratives can take hold, what it means to accuse someone falsely, and the healing of truly seeing someone else for who they are.
They were full of wonder –surprised by something unexpected and beautiful.
The attention they gave rewarded them with a vision of the beautiful and unexpected within others, themselves, and God.
There comes a point in the text in which young Scout, the main character, makes a claim about the complicated situation within her town. Her father, Atticus Finch, does not squabble with her or tell her she is wrong. He simply asks, “Do you really think so?” Scout is left to wonder. She is left to be curious and wrestle with her own perspective.
The question, “Do you really think so?” stayed with our class all year.
It is a statement that alerts us, like a whispered reminder, that wonder is our ever -present invitation to see a situation in a new way, to look again at that sunset. To listen anew to the story of a co-worker, a neighbor, spouse, friend, or child, to reach out to someone in a different way, to be open to a break in your narrative. When we make claims about those around us, or a situation we are in, the question that invites us to wonder is, “Do you really think so?” It gives us pause. It gives us perspective. Wonder needs both – pause and perspective – to grow.
In my experience, the courage of wonder, the verb, gives way to the strength of wonder, the noun – in that order and not one without the other.
A life of faith is about wonder. We look no further than the life of Jesus to find the unexpected, unfamiliar, beautiful and inexplicable. As it says in Luke 5:26,
“Everyone was gripped with great wonder and awe, and they praised God exclaiming, ‘We have seen amazing things today!’” Luke 5:26
Our life with Jesus informs how we see everything and everyone. Just like my students and I showed up to the text together in class, we too are invited to show up to our life with abundant expectation. We show up and read the text of God’s creation, whether in a tiny microscopic cell, a glorious human being, or a mighty sunset. Then we say out loud what we heard. If we audibly gasp at the beauty of a sunset, why not gasp when we behold the glory of another person?
When we inquire about the world around us and sit in the space of pause and perspective, wonder enters and grows.
Rebecca Sandberg is a deep soul. Her profound love and respect for the human story informs her work as a writer, editor, artist and coach. Rebecca works with individuals, communities, schools, churches and organizations to foster generative conversations, cultivate ideas and grow relationships. Having spent many years living and working internationally, Rebecca founded Re:new Project, a nonprofit organization committed to employing refugee women from all over the world. Rebecca is the co-author of the book, Now I See. Rebecca lives in the wine country of Newberg, Oregon with her husband and three young adult children.