Annual Theme Life

Discipline: Capacity to Wonder

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.

I digress.

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.

Annual Theme Life

Discipline: Spiritual Disciplines Handbook

I touched on this last week, but measuring growth in discipline is not a thing my spreadsheets have allowed. When I finally received one of the recommended* books on spiritual disciplines [Spiritual Disciplines Handbook], it affirmed my big fear: discipline is not a well-measured affair.

The author, Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, went so far as to caution readers against reading the whole book through. She advised the reader to let the Spirit guide her to a single discipline to address at a time. I took the inventory in the back of the book and found several areas to address, but I tried to be led to the one that can change me most. I ended up at mindfulness.

Mindfulness! Is the author joking? Have I been pranked? Or maybe I’m following more than I realize. Which is why I need mindfulness.

Each discipline in the book is introduced with the same matrix that describes: desire, definition, scripture, practice points, and God-given fruit. The desire for the mindfulness discipline is “to live wholeheartedly in the present moment, alert to God and without judgment.”

Now, ever since I was in the third grade and referred to an Air Force psychiatrist, people have guided me toward mindfulness. That doctor, my mom, my husband, my therapist. Everyone who knows the tiniest slice of my anxistence [I made that up, it’s anxiety + existence, not a typo].

And I’ve worked on it. In fits and starts. Most recently, I bought myself a ring with these words stamped into the metal: be here now. It’s a talisman, a string around my finger, a touchstone for remembering where and when I live. Here and now. But, guys, the struggle. It’s so real. I want to ruminate. I want to project the future. I also want to be anxiety-free. Or do I?

That’s what my therapist said just before Christmas, “You say you want this, but I’m not sure you do.” Ouch. And here I am, in the moment, trying guidance-by-Spirit, and even it returns me to mindfulness.

I could go the whole fake-it-til-you-make-it avenue. Set aside time every day to meditate with an app, scripture, or silence. Nudge out all the niggling little thoughts that bore into this moment like so many particularly pernicious weevils. But that’s not worked for me. The anxiety – that is my comfort zone, my safe space, because I already know not to expect much from it. It won’t let me down. It will never stop feeding me more worry. It will never leave me alert to God and without judgment. And my favorite listed God-given fruit – greater capacity for wonder – remains cleanly edged out.

Faking it won’t work. It has to be real. Wholehearted, I think the book suggested. This is what ‘work out your faith with fear and trembling’ means. The fear is letting go of the earthly and hurtful worry that makes me feel in control. Have you ever been tethered to something and just let go? I haven’t. That’s the trembling. I don’t like trembling. But if I don’t do something tremble-worthy, I’m not actually working out my faith.

I can’t tell you what spiritual disciplines you need to practice. But it might be a good starting point to fill in the blanks: The fear is letting go of the earthly and hurtful _____________ that make(s) me feel ________________. Then define the discipline that prompts the fear, that makes you feel the opposite, that requires some trembling. We’re all works in progress. Let me know how you are growing discipline in your life.

*In case you’re CoC and trigger shy of the book or author, the recommendation came from a minister of a local Church of Christ, and I now also recommend it. However, if it leads you to apostasy, let me know and I’ll a) apologize and b) stop referring to it, maybe.

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