I sat in a circle surrounded by 39 other retreaters. One of my favorite teachers was in town from South Africa to lead the retreat for spiritual directors, and I felt completely spoiled to be in attendance.
Trevor opened our first session by asking us to walk around a large quilt in the middle of our circle adorned with different images and choose a picture that invited us toward it. It was a practice to help each of us synthesize our state of being in life in an image and a few sentences.
I had been conversing with God for some time before the retreat about my tendency of entertaining critical thoughts toward someone close to me. I find when I am hurt, this can be my knee-jerk response. I had been desiring to replace my critical thoughts with kind thoughts, but I’ve found this to be easier said than done. I’ve experimented with a spiritual practice of replacing a critical thought with a blessing in the past. I liked that practice. However, I was looking for something new to help reshape my knee-jerk response to criticize when I’m hurt with something more gracious.
The beauty of a good spiritual practice is that it’s like a presence that sneaks through the side door to reshape the stubborn will who is always prepared to face off with a frontal assault, but seems pliable in the presence of a side door guest. Just telling myself to “stop it!” (a frontal assault) doesn’t work when I’m retraining my mind and body into a new way of being in the world. But, replacing the critical thought with something else seems to train my mind into a new pattern of thinking. Dallas Willlard calls this idea the principle of indirection.
I walked slowly around the perimeter of the quilt, taking in images and sayings. Nothing called out to me until I approached the third corner of the quilt. And then my gaze was captured.
Wondering at the Mystery. I walked toward the image and found myself exhaling. I had discovered the invitation God was extending to me on that evening. Replacing criticism with wonder. I couldn’t have imagined it if I’d tried. It was such a gentle invitation and I could see how it would be God’s means of grace toward living a deeper life of love for others.
I had never pondered wonder before, and was eager to explore this topic that seemed to be calling to me. As I settled into our airbnb for the night, I opened a book of blessings by John O’Donohue that I had not read for at least nine months. When I opened To Bless the Space Between Us, I read the poem that was up next from where I had left the book almost a year earlier. The last stanza read,
May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder.
My jaw dropped. How wild that this was the blessing that was up next for me to read nine months earlier when I had, without conscious decision, paused reading. It would not have meant much to me back then. But on this day, It felt like God’s was aligning the stars in the universe to send me a message. I googled O’Donohue’s books, wondering if he had more to say about wonder. One of the first of his books to pop on my screen is his book titled Walking in Wonder. Within 30 seconds it was in my Kindle library and my journey with wonder began.
The more reading I have done on the topic, the more I have come to see that wonder is a soul- expanding replacement for the constricting responses of judgment, anxiety, fear and the fleshly responses to life and people embedded in our fallen nature. As I have practiced replacing these postures and responses to people and life with wonder, I’m finding that even my chest expands with an exhale as curiosity stirs my imagination. In Walking in Wonder, O’Donohue writes,
One of the most exciting and energetic forms of thought is the question. I always think that the question is like a lantern. It illuminates new landscapes and new areas as it moves. A question is really one of the forms in which wonder expresses itself. One of the reasons we wonder is because we are limited, and that limitation is one of the great gateways of wonder…All thinking that is imbued with wonder is graceful and gracious thinking. And thought, if it’s not open to wonder, can be limiting, destructive and very, very dangerous.
When I read about Jesus and the way he related with people, He often began with wonder expressed in curiosity, or invited His followers into wonder through story.
What do you desire?
What do you want me to do for you?
Will you give me a drink?
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?
Who do you say that I am?
If our lives are to be Christ-shaped, it seems they will be marked by wonder. We live in a culture in which people are swift to make judgments toward others rather than allow curiosity about the other to lead them into relationality. We are quick to express our dogmatic opinions/beliefs without ever expressing curiosity toward another and their beliefs. I’m finding that wonder is gently ushering me into a more curious and compassionate life.
O’Donohue paints this picture of the power of wonder,
If you look at thought as a circle, and if half the arc of the circle is the infusion of wonder, then the thought will be kind, it will be gracious, and it will also be compassionate, because wonder and compassion are sisters.
Looking back to that evening when I walked around the quilt wondering what would call out to me, I had no idea that image would lead me into what I foresee as a years-long journey into a wonder-shaped life. Would you like to join me?
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another…Colossians 3: 12
Written by Lisa Brockman.
To read more of Lisa’s writing, visit lisabrockman.me.
Her book, Out of Zion: Meeting Jesus in the Shadow of the Mormon Temple is available at https://amzn.to/3AEsJBx.
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