Image by Todd Huffman via Flickr
Yesterday I posted this short poem by Mary Oliver:
Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it.
Since then, I have been thinking about the people in my life who allow themselves to be astonished and what exactly that word might mean, to me or to others. I should probably more accurately say that I wonder how we live into that word. For me, it has meant wonder and awe, an occurrence that causes something inside me to shift, to slide over just a little bit and create a new spaciousness. I recognize that I have associated astonishment with something positive and that the experience of it brings some degree of ease.
The interim pastor at my church is someone who embodies astonishment for me. If he loves a particular hymn or song he will jump up from his seat, sing loudly and with gusto, and swing his arms around for emphasis. All the while there is a huge smile on his face. Also, during our time of sharing our joys and concerns in the worship service, he will get out the local newspaper and read to us some of the things that moved or surprised him. One day it was about how many homeless men have died here in Anchorage over the past year. Another time it was about the burden that our local military bases carry as they lose men and women in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. These things deeply sadden us and we bring them to prayer together.
These are both examples of astonishment. My computer dictionary says that astonish means to surprise or impress. But as I look for a deeper understanding (as contemplatives reflexively do) I find that its derivative in Old French is to thunder and its original meaning was stunned, dismayed, bewildered.
This shadow side of astonishment certainly fits with my previous understanding of the word. If I keep my heart open and aware, even the pain and the sorrow in this world will allow something inside me to shift, to create more room, and to move more spaciously and hopefully, lovingly, in the world. Astonishment is intimately related to feeling, and Mary Oliver and Pastor John are inviting me to feel all of it. And thank God, I have places to tell about it.
What is thundering, a low rumble, a cracking boom and all points in between, in your own life? What is your response?