Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Experiencing Wonder in Nature

(Part 3 in the series Experiences of Mystery and Wonder)
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I daresay everyone has experienced a sense of wonder, and I would venture to say that everyone has found that sense of wonder in nature. “Breath-taking” and “awe-inspiring” are terms often ascribed to nature. There are innumerable examples which can connect us immediately with the wonder of existence, causing us to marvel at the mystery of the universe. John Muir spoke of nature in terms of religious grandeur. He even referred to “the scripture of nature.”

You probably can think of moments when you have sensed that wonder, perhaps at the ocean side or at a beautiful mountain vista. Maybe it was on a lake or a river, or hiking down a canyon or into a vast cave on a guided tour. Your most recent experience may have been a view of the sunset or sunrise. When I was in college, one of my classmates spent the summer with an inner city mission in New York City. He told of one of the projects in which children from the inner city were taken out to a camp where they could experience the trees, lakes, and mountains away from the tall buildings, asphalt, and constant noise of the city. I thought that event was probably the greatest gift that could be given – letting kids who had perhaps never even seen the countryside experience the life-giving and healing forces of nature.

I remember one moment of awe and wonder that I experienced years ago in west Texas. I was driving across country and found myself driving through Texas in the middle of the night. It must have been about 11:00 p.m. and I was on the interstate highway, driving through a heavy fog. Suddenly, I drove past the fog, and there was nothing but clear sky. I was not accustomed to such long stretches of flat land where you could see the horizon in the distance unencumbered by hills, trees or buildings. There was virtually no other traffic on the road, and I was far from the city lights. I was amazed by the brightness of the stars that night, so amazed that I pulled over to the side of the road and got out of my car. From one horizon to the other on that dark clear night I saw nothing but stars. It was as if I were in space looking out at the far flung worlds and galaxies. Many times in my life I had looked up to see the stars, but I could not remember ever being able to look straight ahead and see just as many stars. I was at the center of a veritable dome of starlit wonder.

What is your most memorable experience of wonder in nature? How did you interpret that wonder, and how did you respond?

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