Multi-Faith and Belief Chaplaincy, For All Faiths and None

Open for Wonder

This week's blog post has been written by Associate Chaplain, Geoffrey Baines.

A black and white doodle, with a yellow patch in the right hand corner. At the bottom of the doodle is the text: open to awe

Awe is the feeling we have when we encounter the monumental or immeasurable. We experience a sudden shrinking of the self, yet a rapid expansion of the soul.* Nick Cave

When we shift our mindset and open ourselves to the awe of daily life, we may find that opportunities to be wowed are all around us.** Jonah Paquette

More often than not to be in awe is a choice I make.

Yes, I can wait for something incredible and breathtaking to happen: some natural occurrence or  human encounter, but wonder is all around me, hidden when I rush, get busy  or consume.

Jonah Paquette suggests learning awe-inspiring facts as a place to begin returning to awe: how we live in a galaxy potentially containing 500 million "Goldilocks" planets like our own (plenty of scope for Star Trek's scriptwriters), and how there are some 170 billion galaxies in the observable universe.

But it's not only about looking outwards.

I’m fascinated by the wonder to be found in people's lives and how it is possible to grow ourselves through wonder and awe: the things we are curious about that grow into interests and pursuits, firing our imaginations and leading us into creativity.

I have rewritten the next lines a few times, trying to find the words that connect wonder, art and work together in a way that doesn’t make me sound naïve.

Rainer Maria Rilke connects art and work, confessing:

I long so impatiently to get to work, to begin my workday, because life can become art only once it has become work.^

Corita Kent understood how we all get to be artists:

The root meaning of the word art is to fit together and we do this every day.^^

That we do not easily see ourselves to be artists with the the possibility of joining wonder and art and work together should not surprise us.  We must first enter into the wonder of just who we are:

One of the most important parts of growing up is to see ourselves as we really are instead of assuming we are what our parents and teachers told us we were.^^

Elsewhere, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi touches upon the way we see and understand ourselves as being critical to how we come to the work we perform:

Whether a job has variety or not ultimately depends on a person's approach to it than on actual working conditions.*^

There are terrible jobs out there, for sure, but a little like the flight instruction to put your oxygen mask on first, we must open ourselves to the journey that leads us from wonder to creativity.

In leading into the remark, above, Csikszentmihalyi had written:

But originally "amateur," from the Latine amare, "to love," referred to a person who loved what he was doing. Similarly, "dilettante," from the Latin delectare, "to find delight in," was someone who enjoyed a given activity.*^

Love and delight are the fruit of wonder and awe, capable as we are of turning what we pay attention to into something different with artistry and joy, this beyond job roles, as we define ourselves as alchemistic creatures.  Sunil Raheja says it well when he proffers:

It is about discovering and living all that we are intended to be, with awe and wonder.^*

Austin Kleon offers a place before wonder that we may want to use as a place to begin - awe is a choice we make:

Try sitting in the same place at the same time for the same length of time every day for a month and see if anything happens.⁺

What might we fill this time with: silently gazing, reading, journaling, drawing, walking a familiar path slowly, or some combination of these?  


*From Nick Cave's newsletter: The Red Hand Files: Issue 157;

**Jonah Paquette's article for the Wise Brain Bulletin: Mind Bending Awe;

^From Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters on Life:

^^From Corita Kent and Jan Steward's Learning by Heart;

*^From Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's Flow;

^*From Sunil Raheja’s Dancing with Wisdom;

From Austin Kleon's blog: On praying, whether you believe or not.