I recently started reading a book of writings by Abraham Joshua Heschel entitled, “I Asked For Wonder.” Samuel Dresner, the person who compiled the writings and wrote the intro, wrote about a conversation he had with Heschel after Heschel suffered a near fatal heart attack.
“Sam,” he said, “when I regained consciousness, my first feelings were not of despair or anger. I felt only gratitude to God for my life, for every moment I had lived. I was ready to depart. ‘Take me, O Lord,’ I thought, ‘I have seen so many miracles in my lifetime.’”
Exhausted by the effort, he paused for a moment, then added: “That is what I meant when I wrote [in the preface to his book of Yiddish poems]: ‘I did not ask for success; I asked for wonder. And you gave it to me.’”
I had to pause a little bit and ponder that phrase: “I did not ask for success; I asked for wonder.”
I recently finished another book by a different Rabbi and was so inspired by it, it’s going to be the main resource for my next sermon series about Jacob’s Ladder. In that book, there’s a story about two Israelites who were walking on the ground of the Red Sea that was split by God to escape the Egyptians. But all these two Israelites could see was the muddy ground that made it difficult to walk. They complained and complained about the muddiness of the ground that they failed to see the wonder of the miraculous thing that was happening around them. They were walking on the ground of the Red Sea — an option that was non-existent just a moment before! If they would’ve looked up, they would’ve seen the the wall of water at either side! They missed the wonder. They failed to see the miracle.
The other day, while both the Red Sea story and Heschel’s “I asked for wonder” quote was simmering in my head and heart, one of my parishioners came over to graciously help with something in the parsonage. He brought his son with him and when I asked if I could help with anything, he simply asked that I keep his son occupied and away from the tools — which I was more than happy (and capable) of doing. So while he went to work, I took his son to the park across the street from the parsonage.
While we were playing, he heard the garbage truck. He stopped in his tracks, tilted his head and asked, “Truck?”
“Yea, dude. It’s a truck.”
We walked to the sidewalk to see if we can actually see the truck. And lo and behold, there it was! A garbage truck!
“Yea, buddy. It’s a garbage truck.”
The truck pulled up right in front of us and stopped to collect the trash bins on the curbs.
The kid stood still with eyes wide open, mouth slightly ajar, silently staring at this garbage truck. It’s the longest I’ve looked at a garbage truck that I could remember.
Once in a while, he’ll look over, eyes sparkling, and say with excitement: “Garbage truck!”
I mean, a garbage truck isn’t something I’d pay any special attention to. I wouldn’t hesitate or think twice about passing by a garbage truck if it was stopped in the street doing its business. In fact, if anything, I think I try to avoid garbage truck.
But here was this boy, in awe of this truck.
He looked at it with such wonder.
That’s when it struck me: Is that what I’m missing in my life? That I’ve grown up and now understand how the world works and probably a little jaded with certain aspects of the world, so much so that I can’t look at normal, regular, ordinary, everyday things with wonder?
Am I becoming (have I become?) like those two Israelites so consumed with complaints that I’m missing the miracles and wonders that surrounds me?
And there’s this really adorable video with a 3 year old about to ride the train for the first time.
I don’t think I can remember when I was that geninuely awed and wonderstruck by something so… mundane and… normal and… ordinary.
There truly is something really precious about the innocence of a child and the child-like curiosity and wonder of how everything works because everything seems so new and magical and wonderful.
But, the wonder and magic of it all sort of fades as we grow, doesn’t it? Because as we grow, we learn. We start knowing how things work. And when we know how things work and operate, the wonder of it all (most of the times) fades. It’s like that famous scene from that famous movie: “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.” Once it was discovered that Oz was just a man behind a curtain, well Oz wasn’t really Oz anymore, was he?
Now, I know that I live in a world filled with miraculous and wondrous things. But, I don’t think I take time to recognize it. Or acknowledge it. Or even just simply live in it. Instead, I think a lot of times, I (and many others) choose stare at the ground that we have to walk on and wonder why it’s so muddy and difficult to walk.
The (great) comic strip of Calvin and Hobbes ended it’s run with Calvin saying to Hobbes, “It’s a magical world, Hobbes ‘ol buddy… Let’s go exploring!”
Yes. It is a magical and wonderful world. I guess it’s really up to us to choose what to ponder on and wonder about.
We can choose to look at the muddy ground and wonder why we have to walk through such difficult conditions. Or, we can choose to look up and see the miraculous sights that surround us… and be in wonder.
I hope you and I choose to do the latter.
May you ask for wonder, and may God give it you!