I owe much to my mother but one of the most lasting lessons she taught me is how to appreciate hushed and subtle things. From time to time in my early childhood, my mother would pack us three kids into our yellow 1970-something Honda hatchback and drive us in the direction of tranquility. When we reached some well-wooded spot, she would turn off the engine, roll down the windows and say, “Let’s just listen to the quiet.” As we listened we became aware of the small, uncomplicated wonders that surrounded us. The wind in the leaves. The creaking of elderly branches. The chittering of a hidden bird. “I wonder what it’s saying,” my mother would whisper. And as our minds spun off to consider the language of wild things, the world grew bigger and more wonderful.
Now that I’m grown up, I find that it’s far too easy for me to forget about “listening to the quiet.” I get disoriented within my own crowded mental space. We literally have at our fingertips the most enthralling things our world can offer. All day long I carry a device in my pocket that can feed me an unending stream of breathtaking images from all over the world. I can call up and enjoy the best music ever recorded anytime I want. Literature, philosophy, theology, natural history, it’s all ready to be read, watched, listened to and commented on at my whim. There are so many competing things for me to feed my attention to that sometimes it becomes difficult for me to value any one part of the clamor. My sense of wonder gets stifled in the noise of endless options.
Over the last couple of years The Father has been reminding me to seek out the quiet. Particularly when I’m overwhelmed with life I hear Him calling me, compelling me, to get away to some lonely place. For me that means getting outdoors and into simple, pure nature. I have often found myself interrupting my commute home to park next to the river for five or ten minutes of peace. I have carved out occasional mornings or afternoons to hike a few solitary miles and not for the exercise. I never fully appreciate how much I need a respite until I’m alone with my Father in some hidden place. It’s there that the world regains its context and my heart gains enough space for wonder to dwell.
Wonder is that sense of awe that draws us not just toward beauty but into beauty. It’s one thing to drive past a forest, it’s another to enter the forest and discover its secrets. This is why I so love those sacred set-aside places we have called national parks, national monuments and wildernesses. They are sacred not just because they are pristine; it’s our experiences of wonder that imbue them with value and significance.
They are places, belonging to all of us, where we can go and listen to nature testify about God. They are places where our wonder can grow and compel us to press further up and further into the reality of God.
“What brings meaning is when you can combine a sense of wonder, undergirded by truth, experiencing the richness of love with the knowledge of security. Those four components bring genuine meaning to life. And the older you get the more it takes to fill your heart with wonder.”
The heart of the explorer is in all of us. I sometimes pine after those days when there was still a true frontier and a great unexplored expanse beyond it. I would like to think I could have been one of those companions of Lewis and Clark, pointing my canoe westward through the vast mysterious wild, hopeful to reach the certain shores of the Pacific Ocean. How easily they could have been swallowed up never to be heard from again. Wonder will eventually ask you to risk all.
But our world has been mapped. Every corner has been touched for good or ill by a human foot. Still as we explore these already tread-upon places for ourselves, we can discover windows that look into the untouched lands. The boundless secret countries of our Father, are open to the brave.
Just like those explorers of old who had to conquer their fears of unknown lands, we must conquer our fears of the mysteries of our Father’s lands. The questions we have asked that have not been answered can keep us from venturing beyond our own frontiers.
Wonder is the energy that pushes us forward. Wonder says now is the time, you won’t be disappointed. The answers aren’t on your frontier, the answers are out there in the mystery.
I have come to love those unanswered questions, and I have quite a few of them. Some people talk as if they love mystery just because it is mysterious. But that isn’t enough for the heart filled with wonder.
I love mysteries the way Lewis and Clark loved uncharted rivers. I love mysteries because they are promises of future discovery. It’s true that some things unknown will not be graspable within my 80 or 90 years. But that glory will have to lie in the promise of our good Father.
True wonder, the kind cultivated and breathed to life by God, pushes us past the quiet listening moments we make for it, past the days of discovery here on earth and past the quiet graves we leave behind. Our Father is preparing for us not just houses or estates but, if you will, entire mountain ranges and forests. They are already planted for you. They are growing now, watered with peace, colored in joy. Shading over and clefting in the mysteries that were placed for your discovering.
Quiet now and listen. The wonders of God will point you westward.