21 Aug 2011
“Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are His judgments and how unsearchable His ways!” (Romans 11:33) In the name …
Wonder is one of those rare joys of life. Some people can feel wonder by looking out the back door at a summer thunderstorm and others can sense it standing alone on a sunny beach. Sometimes wonder is much less spectacular. I feel wonder on those extremely rare occasions when I can drive all the way down King Street in Northampton and not hit any red lights. Childhood is full of wonder. A four year old child comes rushing into her grandparents’ kitchen, as I read recently in the newspaper, and she’s all excited to share with them some newly learned pre-school facts. “Sometimes there is thunder,” says the precocious little girl, “and sometimes there’s lightning. And sometimes ..,” and this is where she gets a bit confused, “And sometimes there is a great big tomato!” What she obviously intended to say was tornado, but can you imagine the wonder in that little girl’s imagination as she dreamed about great big tomatoes falling from the sky?
And besides all those universal childhood wonders, we all have our passions, we all have those special places and events that share with us the excitement of wonder. A couple of weeks ago Sharon and I went out to Tanglewood. They now have giant video screens facing out toward the lawn. No matter how far out you are in those $9 seats you can now see close-ups of the orchestra and the soloists while the live music floats out to you. I was sitting there in my Red Sox lawn chair enjoying the music and my adult beverage, but my sense of wonder was in watching the hands of the piano soloist as she appeared on the video screen. Her hands were moving so fast that they looked like a blur. How in the world did she get each of her fingers to hit exactly the right piano key at exactly the right moment with exactly the right touch, and each and every time? I don’t know if I could move my hands and fingers that fast even if I didn’t have to worry about hitting the right keys. Watching her hands, I just had this sense of wonder as she played. She and I both have ten fingers, but with those ten fingers of hers she can make the piano do miraculous things while I can’t even get my ten fingers to play “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” without making mistakes.
We all feel wonder in different ways at different times, but whenever it comes upon us, it’s special. We remember those moments of wonder. They leave a mark. They remain with us. But wonder isn’t only an occasional presence with God. It’s not a unique moment, event or place. Wonder pervades everything about the Divine. It might only be the saints who can appreciate this truth, but God is surrounded by wonder. Listen to the words of the Psalmist as found in the Old Testament, words that were probably used in the Temple liturgy: “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims His handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” (19:1-4) He’s talking about the presence, the power, the beauty of God all around the world, that nothing needs to be said to explain it, it just needs to be appreciated. God can make even the ordinary extraordinary. God’s wonder is contagious if we can tap into it and recognize it.
The ancient Jews would not allow any human depictions in the Temple because they felt that any attempt to imagine the Almighty would only be insulting. It wouldn’t honour the one God. It would, instead, be idolatry, a false representation of God. Their Temple was adorned with depictions of “palm trees and open flowers.” (1K 6:32) It was this idea of the Psalmist: Imagine the beauty and perfection of God the Creator when you look upon the beauty of the world that He has crafted with His hands. There was wonder in the ordinary when God was there. Paul, who wrote the Letter to the Romans from which we read earlier, was raised a Pharisee, a deeply devoted Jewish follower of God. He would have been all too familiar with this idea of wonder, and it is this same Paul who then waxes poetic for us this morning when he says: “Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are His judgments and how unsearchable His ways!”
Back when I was in college, which is now three full decades ago which is completely amazing to me when I think about it, I once went with Bethlehem Chapel to a weekend retreat at a Trappist Monastery in Spencer, Massachusetts. The monks who live there follow an exacting routine day in and day out. Every moment of their day is ordered and scripted. Yet that ordinariness helps them to feel the wonder of God. The ordinary routine of their day and the seasons helps them to feel the eternal presence of God all around them, and that is the same God who is continually in the world around us. Right after Easter I went to see the French movie Of Gods and Men, which was about a monastery of Christian monks in war-torn Algeria. Their world was far from the bucolic one I visited in Spencer, but each of them still felt the wonder of God around them. Even though most all of them ended-up being executed by Muslim extremists, these men were able to appreciate the wonder of God even amid all of the horrors of civil and religious war. I was so impressed by the movie that I would love to rent it and show it here during Advent. I think it would be a powerful way of dealing with Advent’s disconnect of promise and reality, but through it all the presence of the Almighty.
Everything about God, from the spectacular to the ordinary, the beautiful to the violent, is defined by wonder IF we have the faith and the grace enough to look for it. May this place help us to see what is too often overlooked and to appreciate what is too often ignored so that wonder may be one of the gifts of our worship. And for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)