Thursday, December 8, 2016

Finding Wonder in the Ordinary

When was the last time you gazed at the evening sky as the stars appeared and felt yourself being filled with awe and wonder, literally star-struck and speechless? Do you rush out your door every night and look up, just to make sure the stars are still there?

We might feel a sense of wonderment on occasion, but since stars in the night sky seem as common as the sun rising in the east every morning, it’s easy to take the heavenly orbs for granted. Kids still recite, “Twinkle, twinkle little star,” but as adults our typical reaction is more of “Yeah, yeah. Same old, same old.”

The ordinary, the commonplace has that effect on us. If familiarity doesn’t breed contempt, at least it breeds complacency. Maybe that’s why essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “If the stars should appear but one night every thousand years how man would marvel and adore.”

A lot of us do make extra effort to look up when a rare comet is passing by, a full solar eclipse occurs, or some other celestial event is forecast that won’t happen again for at least 50 years. We get excited about the unusual, the rare, the extraordinary. But the ordinary? To borrow the common social media term, “meh!”

The Manhattan skyline, a marvel to
visitors, can seem ordinary to locals.
I imagine some people who work daily at the Grand Canyon, or someone living in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, might feel the same way. They see it every day and can’t help but regard the wondrous view with a disinterested shrug.

Someone reminded me of this recently when he observed, “You know, every year many thousands of people come to Chattanooga, Tennessee to experience its scenic beauty and array of entertainment and recreational opportunities, yet children who live here complain to their parents, ‘Mom (or Dad), I’m bored. There’s nothing to do!’”

During my recent trip to New York City, not having been there in 10 years, I again marveled at the skyline, being reminded why those towering buildings are commonly called “skyscrapers.” Yet, as I peered upward, hundreds of people all around me rapidly walked by, looking straight ahead, oblivious to the marvels of their “natural habitat.”

Perhaps that’s why some people “fall out of love,” or why workers become disenchanted with jobs that thrilled them just a few years earlier. The new and unfamiliar bring with them an excitement that can fade once they become “old” and familiar. But it need not be this way. We can still find wonder even in the ordinary – if we work at it.

In the Old Testament book of Job, after its namesake had endured the well-meaning “counsel” of his friends who urged him to confess sins he didn’t know he had committed, Job finally was confronted by God, who had allowed suffering to enter his life.

“Brace yourself like a man; I will question you and you will answer me,” God commanded in Job 38:3. The Lord pointed to the countless wonders He has created, including the stars, the seas, weather phenomena like snow, hail and rain; animals, fish and birds, both wild and domestic; the rising and setting of the sun. Before restoring Job’s well-being and fortune, God determined it would be good to first restore his wonder for the world He had designed.

In Proverbs the writer notes, “There are three things that are too amazing for me, four that I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake on a rock, the way of a ship on the seas, and the way of a man with a maiden” (Proverbs 30:18-19). Each of these is relatively commonplace, but as we ponder them, they all share an element of the wondrous.

What is it around you that no longer holds your sense of wonder? What might wow a stranger, but from you elicits a mere “Ho, hum”? Is it your family, the place where you live, your recovery from a serious illness, or the talents and skills you possess?

Maybe it’s the object of your faith, Jesus Christ. If that’s the case, it might be good to revisit the lyrics of the classic hymn by Isaac Watts: “When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride…. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”

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