Wonder is a word with different meanings. I get caught up in word definitions. My mind gets caught up in words. My heart gets caught up in meaning, working together with my mind to parse out what this life is for me and how to live it best. Upon first recognition, wonder came to me in the form of questioning. Questions always swirl in my being as a divine koan whether or not it’s true.
I wonder what G-d has planned for me now? I had planned to preach over the weekend at the church where I had served as a pastor. Had worked to be careful and not over commit beforehand or afterward. My best-laid plans fell through of course. Life has a way of reminding us that we are not the ones in charge. Life itself is.
“Life has a way of reminding us…” That’s a phrase I remember writing in other reflections. Human beings are forgetful. We forget the important things of life all of the time. We forget to eat right or follow the instructions of the doctor. We forget this and that and before you know it, time slipped by. I was no longer young and invincible. Now it’s hard to believe that I thought I was ever invincible.
“There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of Society, say, or the Super-ego, or Self-Interest.” ~Frederick Buechner on Vocation
Standing to look out the door of my mountain home I pray about the days to come and what it means for me as a called person. In the past, I know I can say I was called to ministry. Through music, retreat leadership, word and sacrament, I followed that call. Even as I write I follow that call but in a different form. The standing still and quietly led me to be present in the moment. At that moment, the sun came out over the distant mountains and I was struck with wonder at its beauty.
Eureka! Wonder! That is my task in life. No. Wonder, that is my largest gift. Wonder comes to me as easily
now as it did when I was a child. As a child, youth, teenager, I often got in trouble for taking too many photos of flowers, fields, and trees. Film was expensive then and mama always wanted me to have people
in pictures. She said she didn’t mind me taking pictures but it was expensive to develop them. So, please get photos of people if you are taking an entire roll of film; at least get some people in some of them.
I chuckle at the memory now. I don’t have many actual photographs of my adult life because I couldn’t afford to have that many developed. My vocation choices have always been those that have meaning, but that didn’t assure a healthy bank account. In those times when it did include money, I was mired in college or seminary debt. I don’t regret that either. There were plenty of times then when I wondered how I would survive. Now I wonder at the beauty of the long life I have had thus far.
Yesterday, days after I started this writing, the dog and I walked out in the fluffy, new snow. She pranced as we walked to the mailbox. I may have danced had the snow not been so slick. I have yet to dread it like so many others do. Nature continues to inspire and heal me. It’s no wonder I am filled with awe and struck by joy.
Wonder can even be found in death. That lesson was taught to me while a chaplain at the Baptist Hospital in Columbia, SC. I was blessed with the opportunity to be present as many passed from this life to the next. Death caused me to wonder in a different way than life but I cannot say that it was a sad experience. Being at those deaths proved to me that there is more to us than this life.
Technical difficulties caused this post to take me longer to write than normal. In the days that passed between the beginning and the end, Mary Oliver died. She remains one of my favorite poets. She understood wonder in many ways. The first poem I ever heard of hers was quoted in a small mountain church. It makes for a perfect end to this reflection as the poet lives on in wonder.
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
It’s amazing how fast this year has flown. There have been beautiful moments, but also moments where you wonder what happened. I’m not alone in this either. Even some of the younger people I know are already talking about how time is flying. Of course, only us poets continue to talk of poetry.
Earlier this year, I had hoped to re-issue my poetry collection, More Than Knowing. It is a good collection. Life intervened to prevent me from retyping the entire book. I lost the manuscript or perhaps I thought I would never need it again. So there’s also been a bit of laziness in not wanting to have to write it all out again. I tend to write poetry with a pen and paper and then later type it. Since I had already done the hard work for the book issued in 2014, had hoped it would be easier to get this one released in a newer format.
Not so. The additional challenge is that though I type quickly, poetry is filled with emotion. More Than Knowing was written in the happiest time of my life. Going back through the book reminds me of the happiness that I get to keep. However, it also reminds me of the happiness I lost. Fortunately, much of the poetry is about nature and could also fit in here at Beech Mountain. That is the reason I am determined to finish this by the year’s end. Something good has to come out of 2018. Might as well be my book of poetry praising nature and love.
I always hope my poetry is descriptive enough that an actual photo is not needed. That you can create in your own mind a place that moves you. Yet, as I relive this poetry, I find that I want to share some of the photos I took with the poetry. I think you’re going to like this second edition even better. Take a listen to one of the poems I recorded for you today. It is a poem I mean as much now as I did when I wrote it. For each poem I read again, the message is only richer and deeper. I hope you will enjoy it again.