The world has enough “Shock & Awe” campaigns. What is needs more of is “Shock & Wonder.” So began Quinn Caldwell, United Church of Christ pastor and one of the two resident theologians at General Synod 29 in Long Beach, California this weekend. He and Rita Nakashima Brock have the task of leading us in reflecting theologically about our time together as a Church in this national gathering. At the end of each plenary session they take some time to help us think about God – in the midst of all the other talking, thinking, debating, listening, and discussing.
Their first theological reflection on Saturday morning was about the capacity for WONDER! Quinn reminded us of the difference between wonder with a small “w” and Wonder with a capital “W.” Small “w” wonder is: “I wonder why she chose that outfit?” “I wonder when the pastor will finish this sermon?” “I wonder what will be on the breakfast buffet?” Capital “W” Wonder is: “Wow! The Grand Canyon!” “What a beautiful new baby she is!” “What an amazing world we live in!”
To cultivate our capital “W” Wonder we need to practice more of the small “w” wonder, but in a kind, gentle, caring, compassionate and curious manner. He encouraged us to not approach life thinking we have it all figured out. Especially don’t approach other people thinking we have them all figured out, but instead “wonder” about them – what fire of hope burns in their chest? Where have they been in life? What have they had to deal with? What has been their journey which brought them to this moment?
Wonder requires the ability to be surprised. Life is so much more than our small existence … the way of wonder is to cultivate curiosity.
In Long Beach this week I have been very good about waking up at 6:00 a.m. and taking an hour walk. Each walk has been filled with moments of wonder. The first day I walked from our hotel past the Convention Center to Rainbow Harbor, around the harbor to the light house on a small hill overlooking a point in the harbor, back around to the marina. It was a very foggy early morning with the shore and water under what they call a “marine layer” of clouds. (To me it looked like fog.) I watched the fishing charter boats leave loaded with hopeful people eager to catch fish. I watched the street people waking up from their scattered sleeping spots on the lawn, on benches, tucked into doorways. (Long Beach has 4,290 homeless people living on the streets, beach, and in the parks.) I wondered what brought them to this station in life? I wondered how many of them were here by some choice of their own and how many were here by forces beyond their control? I wondered how many of them have given up hope and how many have embraced life and are making the best of what they encounter every day?
Then as I was about to leave the harbor area and head back toward the hotel I heard a barking sound. I have not heard them for a long time, but I recognized the bark of a seal. I searched the water and the docks in the marina and sure enough, there it was – a large seal sitting on a dock next to a small boat. Suddenly my morning of small “w” wonder turned into a moment of capital “W” Wonder. Thank you, God, for this gift.
On other mornings I have walked the beach at Long Beach (and it is a “looong” beach!) I have experienced other moments of both small “w” wonder and capital “W” Wonder: Why are there bluffs overlooking the beach here in California? We don’t have anything like that in Florida and yet we both have sandy beaches at the shoreline. Where are the sea shells on the beach? There don’t seem to be any, only sea weed. The first morning walking the beach I came upon a glorious, beautiful mural painted across some concrete structure set back into the bluff. (It is pictured above.) Another morning I walked all the way to Belmont Pier only to find the pier locked, but on the east side of the pier there was a Pirate encampment for the weekend Pirate Festival. What a nice surprise!
There is so much to wonder about and to wonder at in the world and in life. Travel and Sabbath times certainly help to keep the wonder alive. But I need to remember to keep exercising my wondering ability and my curiosity each day of life. South Florida is certainly filled with “wonder-ful” experiences and moments. All of life is “wonder-ful” and I need to remember to keep “wondering” so I am ready to “Wonder” when those God-moments occur.