A Sense of Wonder

A Sense of Wonder

Winters where I live, along the rugged coast of Maine, are a test of character.

The snows make their first appearance in November and remain a regular if occasional presence through May.

When the first real blizzard comes, it drops its billions of sparkling flakes over the landscape to spread a thick, soft mantel over everything – houses and trees, the rugged coastline and the deep forests.

It softens the jagged undergrowth and covers rocks and boulders and the old winding stone walls, a reminder of the history that was made here, since the hills and mountains that wander across the state until they meet the sea had been largely clear-cut in the 19th century.

And it does its magic along the shoreline where the land reaches into the sea, reminding us that the only permanent feature of this world is change.

 

During my daily walks along the shore, I’m often reminded of a long-time resident of this
state named Rachel Carson.

A native of the northeast who spent her summers here throughout her adult life, Ms. Carson devoted herself to helping us understand the wonders of nature and its fragility under the pressure of human development.

Much of her work focused on the sea: an early book entitled The Sea Around Us, followed by The Edge of the Sea and, then, a long essay that was published in book form in 1956 as The Sense of Wonder.

 

Perhaps you first came upon this little classic when you were a child, though more likely you
read it as an adult to your own children or grandchildren.

Here, Carson shares her sense that “wonder” is a vital dimension of our experience, and one
needing cultivation – first, among our children, but also for our own sake.

At one point, midway through the book, she observes that “a child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement,” going on to lament that “it is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood.”

She goes on to voice her wish that “each child in the world [should be given] a sense of wonder indestructible enough to 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.”

An inspiring vision, to be sure! For our capacity to “wonder” lies at the heart of our creativity
as humans, our ability to open ourselves to the world as a gift and explore its resilient
beauty as a high calling given to each of us.

 

I’ve come to think of wonder as a kind of “sixth sense,” one that activates our capacity to deepen our lives with a growing sense that this world is the one treasure that matters beyond all others in our lives.

Wondering has to do with activating our imagination, enlarging our compassion, and opening ourselves to the irrevocable gift that this life is.

It is the way we engage the expansiveness of our lives, and in times like these, shadowed by the uncertainties and restrictions that the coronavirus has cast over us, this might well be a key to unlock nothing less than the joy of life itself.

We will begin this day retreat with a little gem of a poem by the German poet Hilde Domin
(1909 – 2006), entitled “Don’t Grow Weary”:

Don’t grow weary
but hold your hand out
quietly
to what is wondrous
as if to a bird.
(translated by Mark S. Burrows)

 

This invitation will shape the day as we spend it together in the Sense of Wonder Online Retreat. Poems gathered like this along with insights from the arts and invitations from nature itself, all inviting us to open ourselves to “what is wondrous” in this world and within our own lives.

For information and to register for this retreat click HERE.


Mark S. Burrows is a poet and translator, teacher and scholar of historical theology and spirituality.

Well known as a speaker and writer on topics related to spirituality and the arts, mysticism and poetics, he is much sought after as a retreat leader, across Europe and the UK, the US and Australia.

The winner of the Witter Bynner Prize in Poetry and an array of fellowships and prizes in theology, he is widely published internationally in books and journals; his most recent poetry books include The Chance of Home.

Poems (2018) and two collections of meditative poems, with Jon M. Sweeney: Meister Eckhart’s Book of Secrets (2019) and Meister Eckhart’s Book of the Heart (2017). www.msburrows.com

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