When last were you truly amazed? I mean mind-blown, jaw-dropped, stopped-in-your-tracks in awe? How often does that happen for you? How easily do you experience amazement?
I love watching children when they encounter something new and surprising. It’s easy to forget that for a child, the entire world is new and unexpected and amazing. I am always moved by the purity of the wonder, absorption, and excitement of children and how unguarded their responses and expressions of wonder are. It makes me sad that as we grow into adulthood we so often lose that unrestrained enthusiasm when faced with something wonderful.
RELIGION AS ANTI-WONDER
I must confess that I also find myself frustrated by the tendency I have seen in many religious circles to use faith as a way to explain away wonder. I am saddened by the way ‘worship’ often reduces awe to a specific posture in response to certain songs or to applause when a preacher repeats one of the usual platitudes that are supposed to make us feel that God is amazing. And I am more than a little distressed that, historically, Christian doctrine has too often set itself against the awe-inspiring discoveries of science. I know that I’m being a little cynical here, but I can’t help but think about this thought-provoking statement from Carl Sagan (which I find myself quoting often):
How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant?” Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.” A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.
THE AWE OF CHILDREN
Perhaps this is another reason why I love the amazement of children—they have yet to be restrained by the niceties and sensitivities of religion and so they don’t know which things are supposed to amaze them and which are not. When children encounter something awe-inspiring there is a wonderful lack of concern for doctrine or theology, there is a wonderful lack of self-consciousness, and there is a wonderful lack of concern to hide their true reaction and selves. This is just one more reason, I believe, that Christ instructed us to become like children if we want to see, to experience, the new way of being that he called the ‘Reign of God.’
So what does it mean to become like a child and embrace a childlike sense of amazement? Here are just two ideas—but feel free to add your own in the comments.
To begin with, we need to realise that a sense of wonder can be learned, developed, and cultivated. While it comes naturally to children, there are many ways that life knocks amazement out of us as we grow into adulthood. It takes courage and a deliberate effort to resist becoming jaded and blinded to the wonder in the familiar. In the pressure and anxiety of life, it is too easy to pass by miracles every day without noticing or appreciating them.
And that’s why we need to make amazement a spiritual practice. When we are intentional about creating rituals and practices that help us to be mindful we more easily notice the amazing realities and experiences around us. And then all we need to do is allow ourselves to engage with them and express the awe that we feel inside. Which brings us to the second thing we can do to become more like children in their sense of amazement.
LETTING GO A LITTLE
As adults, we are trained not to get too excited or expressive about things, except perhaps in a few very specific situations (watching sports comes to mind!). But it is very hard to experience amazement with a detached, restrained, and decorous attitude. The wonders of the cosmos are designed to draw us into a different state of consciousness. They require us to let go, dive in, and lose ourselves in their magnificence. And we cannot experience such deep and intense feelings without expressing them through physical movement or vocal exclamation.
Children need no encouragement to shout, dance, jump, and laugh with wonder and joy. They don’t care who is watching. They simply give themselves to the experience. What a pity that we become so self-conscious and concerned about other people that we deny ourselves this simple, profound pleasure.
BECOMING LIKE CHILDREN
The capacity to experience amazement is a priceless and wonderful gift. We gain nothing by denying ourselves childlike openness to awe and we gain so much when we cultivate our sensitivity to the miraculous and amazing.
Any spirituality that requires us to lose our ability to be surprised and inspired or that demands that we remain ‘civilised’ and ‘well behaved’ is useless. A spirituality that leads us into abundant life must motivate us to open our eyes, hearts and minds to the magnificence of the cosmos and to break free in unrestrained appreciation of what we encounter every day in this miraculous world. The choice is ours—we can allow life and its struggles to break us or we can cultivate amazement and fight for a deeper, richer experience of being alive!
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