Readings on Wonder

“Nothing could be as useful, as generative of joy and mercy, as energizing and refreshing, as nakedly holy, as a faucet of wonder that never shuts off.”   Brian Doyle

“Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.” Socrates

People travel to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars… and they pass by themselves without wondering.
Saint Augustine

I think us here to wonder, myself. To wonder. To ask. And that in wondering bout the big things and asking bout the big things, you learn about the little ones, almost by accident. But you never know nothing more about the big things than you start out with. The more I wonder, the more I love.
Alice Walker

We’ve been doing this a long, long time, this staring into space, imagining. Everywhere and always we have done this, and as far as we know, we’re the only ones that do, or can. Cats watch the moon for hours; birds fly in its shadow; dogs howl when it’s full. But no one else makes stories, none make music or art or religion out of wonder. No one else is asking why? Or what if? Or how? Or what now?
Nothing else on earth that we know of—nothing else in the universe that we know so far—looks at the stars or the land, at their own existence or their own face in the mirror, with questions and terror and reverence and awe. We’re the part of all this that laughs and loves and notices, the part of the universe that can scratch its head in amazement, the part that falls on its knees in humility, in prayer. That’s our job in this world, our unique calling, perhaps the most important work we do.
Our calling is not just to notice, but to make a sustained and sustaining response, to act like a god. Our calling is alchemy—to transform wonder into something that endures even after the moment of wonderment passes. The calling is to transform awe into some kind of commitment, some kind of promise to stay awake and keep alive the change that took place in you, the emotion that took hold of you, the question that astounded you when you saw the star, or the flash of a cardinal’s wing, or whatever it was that amazed you. This is the practice of staying awake.
Rev. Victoria Safford

Normally, when we are taken by surprise, there is a sudden narrowing of our visual periphery that exacerbates the fight or flight response — an intense, fearful, self-defensive focusing of the ‘gimlet eye’ that is associated with both physical and intellectual combat. But in the Japanese self-defense art of aikido, this visual narrowing is countered by a practice called ‘soft eyes,’ in which one learns to widen one’s periphery, to take in more of the world. . . .
Soft eyes, it seems to me, is an evocative image for what happens when we gaze on sacred reality. Now our eyes are open and receptive, able to take in the greatness of the world and the grace of great things. Eyes wide with wonder, we no longer need to resist or run when taken by surprise. Now we can open ourselves to the great mystery.
Parker Palmer

I am waiting for my number to be called
and I am waiting
for the Salvation Army to take over
and I am waiting
for the meek to be blessed
and inherit the earth
without taxes
and I am waiting
for forests and animals
to reclaim the earth as theirs
and I am waiting
for a way to be devised
to destroy all nationalisms
without killing anybody
and I am waiting
for linnets and planets to fall like rain
and I am waiting for lovers and weepers
to lie down together again
in a new rebirth of wonder

I am waiting
to get some intimations
of immortality
by recollecting my early childhood
and I am waiting
for the green mornings to come again
youth’s dumb green fields come back again
and I am waiting
for some strains of unpremeditated art
to shake my typewriter
and I am waiting to write
the great indelible poem
and I am waiting
for the last long careless rapture
and I am perpetually waiting
for the fleeing lovers on the Grecian Urn
to catch each other up at last
and embrace
and I am awaiting
perpetually and forever
a renaissance of wonder
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “I Am Waiting” from A Coney Island of the Mind.

Borrowing the lens of a poet’s sensibility, we see the world in a richer way — more familiar than we thought, and stranger than we knew, a world laced with wonder. Sometimes we need to be taught how and where to seek wonder, but it’s always there, waiting, full of mystery and magic.
Diane Ackerman in Deep Play

If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.
Rachel Carson

By far the best way I know to engage the religious sensibility, the sense of awe, is to look up on a clear night. I believe that it is very difficult to know who we are until we understand where and when we are. I think everyone in every culture has felt a sense of awe and wonder looking at the sky. This is reflected throughout the world in both science and religion. Thomas Carlyle said that wonder is the basis of worship. And Albert Einstein said, “I maintain that the cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest motive for scientific research.” So if both Carlyle and Einstein could agree on something, it has a modest possibility of even being right.
Carl Sagan

Sunday school was a mixed bag. On the plus side, I learned to turn cartwheels—though, now that I think of it, that must have happened during coffee hour, not Sunday school. On the minus side, we had to sing songs with hand motions, which, for a child with hazy notions of right and left, was a dreaded source of public humiliation. Let’s not even mention the Hokey-Pokey. There must have been crafts, with glitter and pipe cleaners and paste, materials gathered with effort and expense by our teachers, but I don’t remember a single result. My apologies.
What I do remember—and this is a little embarrassing to a self-conscious geek—is that I liked the actual content. I looked forward to the meat of the matter. We heard religious tales from the Bushmen, the Hebrews, the Iroquois, the Icelanders. There were stories about injustice, and talk about how to recognize it and find the courage to fix it. Certainly there was Akhenaton to learn about, and Susan B. Anthony, Socrates, and Jesus the Carpenter’s Son. And there were the words of Carl Sandburg:
Something began me
And it had no beginning;
Something will end me
And it has no end.
This was the good stuff.
There were the lima beans—not for eating, rather for growing. How was it that all we had to do was get the dirt into a Dixie cup, stick a dried lima bean in there, water it there on the window sill, and presto, it sprouted? That knocked my socks off.
We tromped around in the swamp come springtime in search of tiny round balls with squiggly tails. Pollywogs! To watch them turn into frogs was a miracle beyond expressing.
Planting bulbs in the fall. Then wait, wait, wait until you just about forgot all about them, and, after the slush went away for good, the flowers showed up! I wanted to call the Weekly News Herald.
Not to mention the eggs, the incubator, and the chicks.
What was Sunday school all about back then? Wonder. For me it was all about wonder. Wonder and awe. The inexplicable great big picture. Religion at its finest. Now, over fifty years later, that’s still true.
Rev. Jane Ranney Rzepka

The secret of beginning a life of deep awareness and sensitivity lies in our willingness to pay attention. Our growth as conscious, awake human beings is marked not so much by grand gestures and visible renunciations as by extending loving attention to the minutest particulars of our lives. Every relationship, every thought, every gesture is blessed with meaning through the wholehearted attention we bring to it. In the complexities of our minds and lives we easily forget the power of attention, yet without attention we live only on the surface of existence. It is just simple attention that allows us truly to listen to the song of a bird, to see deeply the glory of an autumn leaf, to touch the heart of another and be touched. We need to be fully present in order to love a single thing wholeheartedly We need to be fully awake in this moment if we are to receive and respond to the learning inherent in it.
Christina Feldman and Jack Kornfield in Stories of the Spirit, Stories of the Heart

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”  Rachel Carson

“Philosophy begins in wonder. And, at the end, when philosophic thought has done its best, the wonder remains.” Alfred North Whitehead

Longer Articles

This Psychology Today article offers up some ways to bring a sense of wonder into your life.

From Aeon Magazine comes an essay considering the connections between wonder and art, religion and science.

A Forest Therapy Guide speaks to the wonder of simply experiencing being alive.

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