I’ve talked a couple of times (at least) about my theme of discipline leading me to a book [Spiritual Disciplines Handbook], which led me to a specific discipline (mindfulness), which asked me to pray for a greater capacity to wonder. This post is how this year’s theme increased my capacity to wonder in nonmiraculous ways.
As a Christian, I believe in the power of some prayer – different discussion – and I believe that very often the power is distributed through natural or human channels. It’s the parable-ized sermon of the man in a flood on top of his house. He prays to God for deliverance and says no to a boat, a helicopter, and other assistance, depending on your preacher, probably. It’s an argument happening in our nation right now with guns, mental health, and sexual assault. Thoughts and prayers are only as good as the actions that follow them and that are based on a God who loves all and equally.
The first time I prayed for an increased capacity to wonder, I was angry. I felt belligerent. I basically dared God to do something. And then my husband’s job took us to Florida in June. The first out-of-state move of our married lives (19 years). Lots of factors were in play in the move: husband, his place of employment, my mental health, et cetera. One outcome to which I clung in desperation: maybe this – seeing and experiencing so much newness – will increase my capacity to wonder.
And it did. But not in a straight line. Certainly not in a straight line from my lips to God’s ear to wonderment. Even when you pray and even when God responds affirmatively, you still have choices to make. God forces himself on no one. It’s consent all the way.
Florida offered so many chances to be inspired. The ocean. Well, the gulf, but still. A larger body of water than I’d ever seen. Sugary sand. Friendly strangers. Beautiful everyday stores like Lowes and Target. Flowering trees that seemed to never not blossom. Water everywhere. Frogs EVERYWHERE. Fitting my office into a space one-third the size of my previous space. Lizards scurrying at home, at the store, at school. An alligator living in the pond in the back yard. The promise of a manatee sighting if you were just in the very right spot at the very right time. Teachers fluent in at least English and Spanish, with documents sent home in those two plus Creole. The swamp sanctuary. Lack of sales tax on groceries! This thing where you go outside and sit on a porch that’s screened and feel at peace. Hurricane prep, evacuation, and recovery. Florida gave me lots of opportunities to marvel, to step back in wonder.
My capacity did not increase. Only my sensitivity did.
When we were in the process of house hunting and such, I asked people: how often do you see alligators? Or, do you ever get hurricanes? Down to a person, they all said, “I’ve lived here X years and I saw one alligator this one time…and hurricanes don’t hit the WEST coast of Florida because reasons and barrier islands!”
Those people were not lying. Yet, perhaps they had become too familiar with the place. Maybe everything had become a bit common.
In October, just shy of four months after moving to Florida, we headed back to Oklahoma to replant our searching roots. We returned to the house that had not yet sold. Our kids returned to the schools they knew. We reengaged in our church congregation. Our family embraced us. Target was totally remodeled, but that was the only major difference.
Except for me. I was totally remodeled, too. Not the outside, sorry. On the inside. My capacity to wonder did grow because I wanted it to, because I used my working senses to inhabit my world.
You see, wonder is not about trees that always blossom or (in Oklahoma this fall) leaves that won’t go without a fight, bruising purple, orange, yellow. It’s not the smell of freshly baked cookies or the sound of laughter or waterfalls. I can see (with glasses), hear (with one ear at least), smell, taste, and touch, and yet I thought I asked to increase my ability to wonder. What I didn’t understand was that I really asked to open a space inside myself to let wonder gather. I asked to increase my actuality of noticing. The little things. The big things. The medium things. I asked, without knowing it, to see and hear and experience with my mind and not my senses alone.
In April, I would have said, “Be careful asking to increase your capacity to wonder; you just might move across the country.” Today, I say, “Always ask for the things you want and then look for them where you don’t expect them.”
This is a discipline of openness. Of throwing open the windows of your soul and figuring out later that you really meant it.