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The Gift of Wonder

Monday, 30 September 2019  | Christine Aroney-Sine

It is autumn here in Seattle and the leaves on the huge maple tree outside my office window are just starting to turn red and yellow. Soon they will fall to the ground and lie as a brown heap in our yard. I love to watch the changing colours and smile at the kids who run excitedly through the browning leaves, laughing and dancing and playing. I wish I wasn’t so busy that I don’t have time to join in.

It is sad that, like me, most adults rarely get out and have fun, uninhibited by the tyranny of urgent deadlines and rigid schedules. Yet according to Stuart Brown of the National Institute for Play, adults need to play just as much as kids do. He says nothing lights up the brain like play. He believes it is as important as oxygen for our survival and may be God’s greatest gift to humankind.

Unless you become like children you cannot enter the kingdom of God. These words in Matthew 18 riveted my attention a couple of years ago and helped change my perspective.

When I asked my Facebook friends What childlike characteristics make us fit for the kingdom?, an amazing list emerged: playfulness, awe and wonder, imagination, curiosity, love of nature and many more. Tragically we live in a world of play deprivation, nature deficit disorder, and awe and wonder depletion. I think we suffer from God-deprivation too. No wonder our life rhythms are out of sync with God.

I am increasingly convinced that rediscovering child-like wonder and the joy of play is essential for our spiritual health. Awe and wonder, imagination and curiosity connect us to the God who is present in every moment and everything in a way that nothing else can. These qualities enrich our contemplative core and expand our horizons to explore new aspects of our world and of our God. They bring healing to body and spirit, move us from isolation to community and help us find safety in the presence of both God and of others.

It was this conviction that prompted me to write The Gift of Wonder in which I explore twelve childlike characteristics that I think make us fit for God’s kingdom. Did you know that a daily dose of awe makes us more caring and compassionate people? Regular reminiscing and nature walks make us healthier and more emotionally stable. Gratitude transforms our lives and our faith in incredible ways.

Children experience awe a hundred times a day; adults rarely do but as a result of my research I have added a ‘daily dose of awe’ experience to my spiritual disciplines. My husband and I rechristened our daily walks as ‘awe and wonder walks’. As we walk around our local lake we comment on the sun sparkling on the water and the brilliant reds and golds of the leaves. They take our breath away, enriching our relationship and connecting us to God and to God’s creation in inspiring and amazing ways.

My own increasing joy and delight from my ‘daily dose of awe’ experiences encouraged me to apply the same principle to other activities. My daily dose of awe sometimes comes from plane trips or drives around the neighborhood and out into the country. On the plane, I am the one with my window shutter up when everyone is trying to see their screens. I am inspired by the landscape we pass over. I am particularly captivated by the meandering rivers shining in the morning sunlight. ‘That’s God doodling’, I exclaim.

Awe begets awe. As we take notice of the awe-inspiring aspects of our world, we start to notice awe and wonder wherever we go.

I think Jesus always maintained his childlike awe and wonder. That’s why he encouraged his disciples to go out and look at the wildflowers and game with this same awe and wonder at the beauty of God’s creation.

Believing in a God who loves to get dirty hands planting gardens, makes mud pies to put on the eyes of the blind, and does happy dances and sings with joy over all of humanity and in fact all of creation has revolutionised my faith. Here are a few steps you might like to try now, to embrace the gift of wonder:

  • Read some children’s books. Revisit your childhood favorites or ask your kids, grandkids or friends' kids which ones they enjoy most. Read them together. It is always fun to hear the enthusiastic responses of children to creative words and images.
  • Spend time with kids. We all need kids in our lives. Not only do they help us have fun but they also ask difficult questions that encourage us to let go of our pretentious and often unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others. Sometimes their questions lead us to some deep soul-searching of our own.
  • Reconnect to your senses. Kids view the world through all their senses, but we adults often limit ourselves to sight and sound. Even these senses have very confining borders. Go on a nature walk. Rediscover the joy of smells, the wonder of textures, the delight of sunlight through trees. Using our senses opens us to a God of delight and rejoicing who invites us to relax, to sit in contentment and wonder, or to allow ourselves to be distracted by the beauty of a butterfly.

I want to continue noticing the wonder of the changing seasons and immerse myself in their beauty. I want to increasingly be drawn into the presence of our fun-loving, joy-filled God. This is a great time to get out and have some fun in God’s world. Will you join me in discovering the wonder of God and of God’s world? Plan a play date, go for a walk through your favorite park and take time to enjoy the beauty and wonder of God.

Christine Aroney-Sine
is an Australian physician who developed the medical ministry for Mercy Ships. She is also the founder and facilitator for God Space, an online community that grew out of her passion for creative spirituality, gardening and sustainability. She and her husband, Tom, are cofounders of Mustard Seed Associates. Her most recent book is The Gift of Wonder: Creative Practices for Delighting in God. Other books include Rest in the Moment, Return to Our Senses, GodSpace and Tales of a Seasick Doctor.

The Gift of Wonder will be launched at Newtown Mission Uniting Church in Sydney on Tuesday 5th November at 7:30pm. For details see here.

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