“Fill them with the Spirit of wonder and awe in your presence.” These words are part of a prayer said over those being confirmed in the Church. I continually pray for the deepening of this gift of the Holy Spirit for myself and for the sick and elderly parishioners among whom I minister.
With all of life’s constant losses and frustrations, it’s easy to get preoccupied with the pain of it all. Years ago, I was inspired by one of our older parishioners who had become confined to the bed in a small, dull room in a nursing home. Nevertheless, Margaret was always full of cheer and curiosity. What was going on at church? How were her surviving friends? Had I been on vacation or read any interesting books? She loved gardening and all things Nature. She continued to pursue those interests through reading, TV programs, and hanging on the experiences of her visitors. She never lost fascination with the wonder and complexity of a much bigger world beyond her tiny room. From those visits, I learned the importance of continually nourishing my soul with wonderment. Even in the Eucharist prayer we acclaim, “Heaven and earth are full of your glory!”
“But ask the animals, and they will teach you;
the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.”
With these words, Job reminds us that God’s glory and hidden wisdom are all around us. All of God’s creation is an unfailing source of awe and wonder, if we would just pay attention. Do we think we already know all we need to know about God’s designs? Hmmm…. maybe not, says the Book of Job. Stay alert for surprises! All of God’s beloved creation is imbued with Divine design, beauty, wisdom and inspiration for life. Scripture encourages us to carefully observe and learn from even the most insignificant and improbable of creatures.
“Go to the ant, you lazybones;
consider its ways, and be wise.”
“Four things on earth are small,
yet they are exceedingly wise….
the ant…the badger…the locust…the lizard…”
Scientists continue to explore and make new discoveries, not only in the universe of outer space, but in the universes of the world’s oceans and even in the soil under our feet! If we would only inquire, we would never run short of wonder and awe! Ask the ants to teach you, or the blue herons, or the oak trees, or the octopus, or the earthworms.
When I moved to Alabama in 2006, I quickly learned of the astonishing eco-diversity among plants and little creatures in this state. Although much is being lost due to unwitting human activity, our land and waters are a source of wonder. From a book on native plants, I learned that during the Ice Age, plants and animals migrated south as the glaciers advanced. Because the mountain ranges in this country lie north to south, nothing blocked the retreat from the advancing glaciers. Those of us living in Alabama and other southern regions became the preserve of a great treasure. Many species on the European continent did not survive the Ice Age because of its mountains that extend east and west, forming a barrier.
I’ve pondered the spiritual parallels. Like the unobstructed path of migration south for plants and animals along the Appalachian Mountains in the last Ice Age, God’s grace provides a means for me to adapt in times of change. Am I willing to learn new paths, adapt to new circumstances? Like immovable mountain ranges that form barriers, some things in life are beyond my control to change. Like my elderly friend Margaret, can I be grateful and creative with what is within my power to change? Whether I am accepting what I cannot change, or changing what I can, I hope that I will always seek “the Spirit of wonder and awe in the presence of God.”
By Sister Sara Aiden Burress, OSB