William Brown, Professor of Hebrew Scriptures at Columbia University in Atlanta, GA, was a presenter at Epiphany Explorations in Victoria at the end of January. He has an interest in ecology and justice as well as astrophysics and astrobiology. He gave three presentations in Victoria about interpreting biblical stories and the life we live through wonder, i.e. a hermeneutic of wonder.
While I’d not heard of using wonder as an interpretive lens by which to view biblical stories and the stories of our own lives, I’ve long had an interest in science and astronomy and am often in awe at the beauty of life. I love getting to the top of a mountain and spending time in silence just taking it all in. Almost every night, I will go outside to look up to the night sky to see if any stars or planets are visible. I have a couple of aps on my iPad to help me understand the placement of the constellations and I look at it often.
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I’ve long loved Psalm 8 and think of it as the philosopher’s psalm. “Who are we mortals that God should give us any heed? And yet God has made us little less than God’s self.” I imagine the writer of Psalm 8 looking up at the night sky and wondering about our place in the universe and God’s intention of love and justice for the world.
A couple of weeks ago, just after Epiphany Explorations, I was visiting my mother in Nanaimo; there was a convergence of Mars, Venus and the sliver of a waxing moon just after sun-down; these three celestial lights were in a tight triangle and very visible. Last night (Monday the 13th of February), I went to a dark place just after 7 pm to look at the constellations. Venus is very bright in the southwest sky; Mars is visible too, but much fainter.
I love the night sky. When I was younger, a friend and I bought a map of the night sky constellations. We were camping with our spouses and we had red lights and were looking up at the sky, consulting the map and trying to guess what we were looking at. But it wasn’t computing. After some ½ hour of trying to figure it out, we both realized that we had inverted the directions so where N was, we were thinking it was S, and vice versa. Well, our spouses thought this was hilarious… so did we, as a matter of fact. We all laughed and this seemed to reinforce the wonder with which we viewed the night sky (not to mention the wonder of human laughter).
Brown outlined how physicians are telling us that a sense of wonder can open up vistas of healing for us. It helps calm us and helps us put stress into perspective. A sense of wonder leads us to value and cherish—indeed, love—all creation. Without anthropomorphizing creation, love can be experienced in the wonder of a grizzly seen at a distance, the grace of a deer leaping in the forest, the jumping salmon in running river, the spring display of colour, and a meadow just after the snows have gone. A sense of wonder puts a new energy in our love for our fellow humans and in the intimate love we share with lovers, close friends and family.
And a sense of wonder helps us come at Scripture with new eyes and hear familiar passages with new ears. It can make the story come alive. Wonder can cultivate our deep commitment to justice and the well-being of the planet. The old hymn invites us to take time to be holy. We can take this time by being present in the moments of our days to see the world with wonder, to hear music with new wonder, and to share in life with an incredible sense of awe.
Cultivating more wonder in our lives can change us and create well-being... and it's good for the planet!