Turning Toward Wonder
Written for and shared with camper at Camp Dudley in Westport, New York on August 4, 2019.
Turning Towards Wonder
Good morning. What a pleasure it is to join you here at Camp Dudley - in this beautiful chapel among friends.
Earlier this summer, our family adopted a puppy.
Who here has a pet at home waiting to see them after camp? Some hands, I had a feeling a few of you would. Oh, those reunions are sweet.
We named our puppy Casco as in Casco Bay, which is the bay along the coast of Maine where my husband and I grew-up. Our Casco is a sweet boy- and all puppy. He is has a grey coat and grey puppy eyes. He wants to be around us all the time- right under foot. His favorite thing to chew on right now is a piece of moose antler and his favorite stuffed toy is an owl - one of those ones with a squeaker in it.
I had forgotten how curious puppies are, but was soon reminded when I began to take him on walks. He ambles along, sniffing…until he hears or sees something and stops suddenly. In our neighborhood along Maple Street it is often birds squawking, a motorcycle driving past us, or the scurrying of a squirrel up a tree that gets his attention.
When this happen, he pauses, and he observes. His body becomes still- one paw slightly forward and his eyes and ears attentively turned toward whatever he has noticed.
This too is true of human babies. Think of a baby or a toddler in your life: maybe a younger sibling or a cousin or a family friend. Remember for a moment what these young children are like.
For me, one of the greatest gifts in becoming a mother was the opportunity to see the world anew through the eyes of my children. Eli and Jasper became my teachers, as I re-learned how to notice the subtle mystery of life that always surrounds us. Together we would walk most afternoons to pass the time. As my kids bent down to inspect the ants on the sidewalk, I too, noticed the ants. As they dragged their hands through a puddle, I too, slowed down to watch the swirling movement.
As our boys grew stronger and could cover more miles, our family discovered a favorite camping spot along Icicle Creek back in Washington State where we lived. I’ll never forget one camping trip, we wandered along the trails and down to the river bank. Ben, Eli, Jasper and I (without saying much) agreed upon which of the huge, flat rocks we would make our way down to. The river was so powerful in its force - crashing along the river bed- that it was not worth trying to talk over it. It was simply too hard to hear one another. So we sat silently- picking at the crooks between the rocks, touching the surfaces (smooth and course), but more or less just taking in the power and the beauty of that place.
Now, I don’t know how to explain scientifically what I felt, but as we climbed the bank and walked back along the wooded trails I felt like the very atoms of my body had been rearranged. I felt a calmness and settling within myself and as I looked at my kids and husband, I suspected they too had experienced some physical shift. Not to share too much, but we had all been a little grumpy when we started out on that walk and now, after having our atoms scrambled by the intensity of the water rushing past us, we seemed to float along the trail - open to the wonder of the beauty surrounding us in those woods. There was a sense of ease.
Perhaps some of you know what I am talking about. Maybe it wasn’t beside a raging river and probably not in Washington State for you, but perhaps:
—looking up at the Dudley dome - at all those stars
—feeling an arrow fly off your bow toward the target
—grasping the mainsheet while under sail in Lake Champlain
— or feeling clay ooze and shift between your fingers as you shape your pot on the wheel in Brodie…
Perhaps, you have experienced one of these moments.
These moments of noticing when everything else in your head and everything else around you, falls away- and you are transfixed by something out of the ordinary.
In today’s gospel story, Moses is out minding his business, tending a flock of sheep. He stops short when he sees a bush in flames - not on fire, but brilliant with unconsuming flame. Moses decides toturn towards it- to see this great sight. The Lord responds with excitement, Moses, Moses. Here I am.
Now when Moses set out with the sheep that morning, he was not expecting this. He was working- he was in his routine. I’m sure he had worries, fears, and other thoughts that occupied him. But as he walked, he noticed the bush and he turned towards it much like my puppy Casco stops in his tracks to take another look.
Moses, stops in his tracks - he pauses, he makes the choice to turn toward the sight, and in doing so- in making that choice to notice - to see what is before him- he is given the gift of seeing something that becomes something out of the ordinary. A sight that holds within it mystery- and in the teachings of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam (of which this is a common story)…what Moses sees is later interpreted to be God, Yaweh, Allah.
Now Moses wasn’t the only person to walk past this bush. There were certainly other people out walking along the hillside. But the reason we retell this story of Moses is because of his reaction- his response. Where others walked by, barely glancing up, too consumed in their own routine or thoughts, Moses interrupts his thoughts and notices the sight before him. This ability to see what is around us (for Moses the bush), and the willingness to turn toward the mystery of life (again for Moses, God saying “here I am”) is what I am here to talk about with you this morning. It is a story of turning toward wonder.
I am by training a clinical therapist - kind of like a guidance counselor- and in my practice work with people of all ages. Twice a week I spend the day in our local school. I work with kids who are anxious, sad, or angry. I help them develop strategies to get through the day and to compete their tasks. I have learned from these kids that there are so many pressures - pressure to do well in school - making the honor role, keeping up with friends on social media, having the right clothes or phone, making the best teams, being the best musician, it goes on and on. And at home, being part of a family has its challenges: getting along with siblings, living up to your parents’ expectations, working through the moments when someone is angry or sad- depressed or anxious. And some of you, as did I, deal with terminal illness, death, divorce, addiction and other deep pains. There is room for you here- I see you.
Living the Dudley motto, “the other fellow first”, begins by seeing those around us. When we allow ourselves to see and to be seen we engage in the mystery of life. When we live “the other fellow first” we pause and turn toward one another and ourselves. Your time at Camp Dudley is an opportunity to pause and to notice what is around you. This is a supportive place that recognizes and honors the value in doing so. You have leaders and staff sharing their stories in vespers and during chapel talks. You have reflected and grown with your cabin mates. This summer you’ve had the opportunity to practice pausing – noticing- and flecting with your leaders. Pay attention, these tools will serve you.
And then when the summer is over, I hope you walk boldly back into your lives at home and at school present to what surrounds you and what is within you.
In those moments when you feel pressure, even from those who love you, — pause — and notice what is around you. Turn toward wonder, like Moses with the burning bush, like Casco the puppy with the scurrying squirrel.
Being mindful won’t make the pressures go away completely. Being mindful won’t take away sadness, fear or anger, but I believe it will give you some wiggle room. Just enough wiggle room in which you can connect to your breath and in doing so connect to your courage, your wisdom, and your spirit.
You have what it takes- wonder is already, always present- within you – and around you. Turn toward it.
by John O’Donohue
Blessed be the longing that brought you here
And quickens your soul with wonder.
May you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire
That disturbs you when you have settled for something safe.
May you have the wisdom to enter generously into your own unease
To discover the new direction your longing wants you to take.
May the forms of your belonging–in love, creativity, and friendship–
Be equal to the grandeur and the call of your soul.
May the one you long for- long for you.
May your dreams gradually reveal the destination of your desire.
May a secret Providence guide your thought and nurture your feeling.
May your mind inhabit your life with the sureness with which
your body inhabits the world.
May your heart never be haunted by ghost-structures of old damage.
May you come to accept your longing as divine urgency.
May you know the urgency with which God longs for you.