I maxed out last week. Every day filled with activity and left me scurrying from place to place like a squirrel on amphetamines. I swore at one point I heard a hummingbird yell, “Dude, slow down! You’re like wearin’ me out.”
Around dusk last night and late this afternoon, I took a break in my favorite place, the outdoors. My halcyon time of the year is that holy month of days between mid-May and mid-June. The late spring grows pregnant with possibility for the upcoming summer. Hallowed days swell with life. The sky pulses cerulean. The trees fluoresce with green.
I picked up my binoculars, hoping to catch some stragglers on the spring warbler migration. While showing my son a Red-winged Blackbird atop one of our sycamores, I happened to spot a Cape May Warbler. On my own property! My neighbor across the street, an Audubon Society local president, blew my mind when he said he saw one of these uncommon birds in his stand of pines last year. Not having a Cape May on my life list, I thought I’d lost my opportunity forever. But it showed up when I least expected it.
Saw a Wild Turkey, too. It’s nice to know America’s bird is coming back. I’ve seen more in the last three years than in the previous twenty-five.
A Rose-breasted Grosbeak surprised me, since I hadn’t seen any on our property before. You tend to see more of them in winter in Ohio, but this one happily flitted through the canopy blissfully unaware of his being out-of-place in May.
An Eastern Wood Pewee hunkered on a spare limb by our pond…patience, patience. Then, zip! Snared a moth mid-flight. Back to the branch. Waiting….
Two Flickers tended their nest in a hole in an ash tree. Yellow Warblers, a Myrtle Warbler, a Yellow-breasted Chat, then pow—the eye-socking sight of the setting sun catching a Baltimore Oriole’s tangerine feathers. Two happy Chipping Sparrows watched me as they hopped around our gravel driveway, scouting for food, chipping as they searched.
Later, I left our forest, walked back to our porch, and pulled up a chair to watch the half acre of trees nearest our house, looking for tiny flashes of movement in the increasingly dense canopy. Here, the locust trees come late to the spring show, fighting with the walnuts to be the last to leaf. I hear the “drink your tea” of a Towhee, spot a Red-bellied Woodpecker as it digs for bugs wedged in tree bark, and hear a tiny Chickadee—its weight not more than a nickel, dime, and quarter together—scolding all 215 lbs. of me. And I’d probably lose that fight, too.
I saw a Cerulean Warbler a couple weeks ago, and I guess the reference to that color should bring me out of my reverie and back to the blog. People don’t want to read about a bunch of birds, do they? No time. People come here to skim some hard-hitting commentary on the latest ecclesiastical buzz, right?
A wise man once wrote,
Four things on earth are small, but they are exceedingly wise: the ants are a people not strong, yet they provide their food in the summer; the rock badgers are a people not mighty, yet they make their homes in the cliffs; the locusts have no king, yet all of them march in rank; the lizard you can take in your hands, yet it is in kings’ palaces.
I don’t know what happened to wonder. It seems to be in short supply today. In a disposable world where people toss cigarettes and half-eaten bags of fast food out their car windows while on their way to their next appointment, I suppose there’s not much place for wonder.
Wonder goes missing in busyness. Spring warbler migration? What? When? Oh, I’ll pencil that in my calendar for next year, I promise.
Entertainment tramples wonder, since wonder may not be as flashy, not as trendy, not as immediate. Wonder takes a little work. Just a little.
We might not see wonder, but we do see truckloads of pragmatism in our churches. We can teach and preach and prophesy on how to have a great marriage, but most people will leave without any sense of wonder at the person sitting next to them on the drive home. We can spend an hour in worship, yet the second the last note dies out in the sanctuary rafters, we’re scanning our bulletins to see what’s next, hoping that the sermon won’t be too dry or lengthy.
Because we don’t wonder, we don’t pray. We already know what God’s like. Jesus won once and He’ll win again. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Hope He comes back soon—but not too soon. Amen.
When wonder goes missing in our churches, answers replace it. Not questions, just answers. Questions accompany the first signs of wonder, especially when the answers for those questions don’t come easily. And where wonder reigns, sometimes neither answers nor questions matter, only the wonder.
I wish I saw more wonder in American Christians. I suspect that many of us are too caught up in living our best life now to wonder at the way the Wood Pewee pirouettes in space to outmaneuver a zigzagging moth. Or how the craters on the moon form patterns. Or how the brook teems with tadpoles, mayflies, and tiny fish. What are the names of those fish? Does it matter?
I think it matters. I think we’ve lost something in the last hundred years in this country. Our wonder’s fled. I think it’s one reason why so many people take psychoactive drugs. Strip away the wonder and the world turns frightening, cold, and distant. It becomes the enemy. Life takes on a winner-take-all mentality where some win and others lose, and God help us if we’re not one of the winners. Now pass the damned Zoloft, thank you very much.
I think a loss of wonder means it’s far easier to take a gun and shoot at cars passing by. I believe a loss of wonder makes it that much easier for an angry husband to take a fist to his wife’s face. I know that a loss of wonder makes us shallower people.
Loss of wonder is a sin.
We won’t hear that sermon on Sunday, though. Because if we did, it would mean we’d have to start dealing with our culture, a culture that successfully murdered wonder and got away with it. Nothing pains me more than to hear some five-year-old say, “Ah, it’s just a stupid old bird.” Because I know that any child who says that will one day grow up to say, “God? What do I need God for?”
Something to wonder about.
25 thoughts on “Wonderland”
Thanks, Aaron. “Full of wonder” is what I hoped this post would be.
With “wonder” also a bit of “mystery” please.
Can’t have one without the other.
I think the passage from Proverbs illustrates mystery well. Wise people employ wonder all the time and never stop wondering. Mystery is tied up with that, of course. Watching the furious flight of flycatcher as they, well…catch flies, makes for mystery at how they can maneuver so quickly to catch their food. No scientist will adequately explain that. Mystery all over the place.
Can wonder be “taught” and we’re just not doing it anymore? When I was kid, visits to the lady down the block from us nurtured — unknowingly, probably — nearly all my interest in plants, bugs, and birds. She showed me her flowers and while I didn’t remember the varieties, I was fascinated that somebody I knew did! She wasn’t afraid of any bugs (like my mom was!). She also knew her birds by the songs they sang. I just ate all of that up.
So now, when I show folks my flowers, try not to run away from bugs, and can play “name that bird” by its tune, I thank God for Gladys.
I believe wonder is a natural state of our creation. God puts wonder in us by default. We can either nurture it or kill it.
One way to kill it is to attempt to describe all mysteries in purely scientific terms. The sour fruit of the Enlightenment is this attempt to render all wonder and mystery moot through knowledge. This is not to say that knowledge is the enemy of wonder, though. In fact, I think knowledge can enhance wonder. My knowledge of birds allows me to wonder at how a rare bird like the Cape May Warbler winds up in my backyard. The problem comes when we reduce everything to knowledge and leave it at that. This changes “Wow!” into “Oh yeah, that thing,” a non-chalance that actually shows contempt for wonder.
Heads down, please, no looking to the left or right, and never, ever look up, lest we notice something that catches our attention and divert us from our appointed task.
“Diverted” used to mean amused or entertained. Ironic, don’t you think?
I do not have the benefits of the 100 aker wood as my backyard, but what I currently have is much preferable to the parking lot I had outside my California apartment. But I still have a tendancy to enjoy the green of the woods and the flashes of scarlet cardinals from the air-conditioned comfort of my home, where I sit in front of my glowing computer and divert myself with the joys of God’s creation. I can’t help but think that I have my priorities backwards; that I should be spending most of my time in God’s world. “But there are planes to catch, and bills to pay…”
Adam, Adam, where are you?
Think about the post “Blind, Deaf, and Dumb” I wrote a while back about the virtuoso violinist playing for change in the DC subway system. No time to look up and listen. Head down, get where you’re going and leave it at that.
We’re doing well at restoring greenspace in this country, but we can do better. That the turkeys have rebounded is a good sign. Some birds have proven quite adaptable to us shifting our greenspaces around, though a few succumbed to our finagling. (I’m one who thinks the ID of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in AR remains dubious.) I think all of us need to get back to the land more than we do. And not just to despoil it or use it for our jetskis.
I find that it’s often easier to be diverted from reading the Word of God by the wonder of the birds outside my window (Orioles nibbling grape jelly today and Red-bellied Woodpeckers pecking and Rose-breasted grosbeaks preening and the Tree Swallows doing kamikazee dives and the Sandhill Crane twitching and dancing along the creek as he tries to attract his lady and…where was I, anyway?) than it is to be diverted from birdwatching by the Word of God. Something is very wrong here when the wonder of creation upstages the wonder of my Creator. A bit like loving the painting and ignoring the artist who put his heart and soul into the painting. Thanks for the reminder.
Sandhill Cranes on your property? Wow, you’re in a sweet spot if you’re seeing them on your land!
I don’t see the wonder of creation upstaging the Creator at all. I understand that mistake, though. Many environmentalists fall into that error. I see the Creation testifying to the Creator. I see that Creator happy with His Creation. Like the writer of the passage of Proverbs above, the Creation tells me something about who the Creator is, reveals greater truths about life.
We have Sandhill Cranes every year–This year I’ve seen from 1 to 7 at a time. Interesting birds. They stand as high as I am, and the babies I’ve seen are 2 feet tall!
BTW -They can do a considerable amount of damage pulling up our young wheat and corn. The wild turkeys do far more, though. The field looks like somebody just ran the corn down when they come through. Deer, raccoons, turkeys…It’s a “wonder” we’re still farming!
Great post. Part of my Mother’s Day gift was some hours alone out at a state park and it was great. I think wonder is very closely related to meditation. It’s hard to be in awe of the wind and the trees and birds without some great truth about God being revealed to you for close consideration…
I agree; wonder and meditation ARE closely related.
I’m so jealous of you! We spend mega-bucks on bird seed and sunflower seed and we enjoy the birds that come (especially the blue grosbeak, indigo bunting and rose-breasted grosbeaks -because its rare to see them around Atlanta), but these birds mentioned above only show up at certain times. Last year we had a flock of rose-breasted gbs and WOW did we feel privileged to have them for a week or so. I’ve never seen an oriole! Don’t guess they come this far south.
This is a beautiful post! We do tend to take much for granted. LORD, fill us with wonder and awe over this beautiful world you made for us and open our eyes to see our Creator and breathe in Your beauty as we step away from the busyness that would rob us of what you intended.
You see the birds you see depending on so many factors, it’s hard to lump them all together and get a bigger picture. Cape May Warblers like evergreens, which I have none of on my property, though two of my neighbors have nice stands. He was probably just passing through on his way to those stands. A little bit o’ luck for me, I guess.
I haven’t seen a Blue Grosbeak in years, so you’ve got me beat if you see them regularly. We do have Indigo Buntings in our area and though I see them regularly, I’m always taken aback by their beauty. One evening, I saw an Indigo Bunting and a Scarlet Tanager together in the same dead tree down by our pond. What a contrast in stunning colors!
I miss the birds now that I am living in the city. Still, I can see the scissor-tail swallow or meadowlarks occasionally from my apartment window. The swallows have a unique call I love.
Go on your local Audubon Society’s bird counts. You’ll be amazed at what you can find. Plus it’s a great way to meet people who may be non-churched.
Great idea, Dan! Thanks!
The Wichita Wildlife Refuge conducts a Songbird Census every year. I just need to join in.
There ya go!
a couple weekends ago, while at a nature preserve’s bird blind in richmond, indiana, i saw a male indigo bunting. that was the second one i’ve ever seen. breathtaking!!
Now you just need to pair that brilliant indigo bird with black wings with a Scarlet Tanager, a brilliant scarlet bird with black wings.
Thanks for this post. Well written and stated. I have a Pileated Woodpecker nesting in my backyard for the last few years. Very cool. I love my Creator the more I see His creation, well, except for cats.