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Wonder


Life just wasn’t making sense that day. Disorientation and misunderstandings and general malaise hung about, shadowing and distorting everything. I’d yelled viciously at my kids, spoke harshly to my husband, and couldn’t seem to flake off the ugly, encrusted callous of resentment that sheathed my heart. It felt like it would take a sledgehammer this time to break open again. I was so weary, blearily and blindly stumbling and stagnating in a haze. I needed thundering capitulation, fire in my belly, a total rebirth. I needed light in my eyes.

So I told my husband in my best closed-for-negotiation declarative voice that I needed to go on a bike ride. Looks like rain, he said. I didn’t care. The screen door had barely slammed behind me when I set off, two wheels grinding and skidding over gravel. I pedaled furiously and angrily over the blacktop of the rural county road where we lived. I headed away from town, into the wide open vistas of the eastern Colorado high plains, where brittle scrub brush and the loneliest trees in the world and the most evil weed known to man, the “goat’s head”, scrabbled out a living for themselves.


I could never quite get used to this landscape, which felt utterly alien to me, having grown up deep in the woods of Missouri where I waded in the creek and hid among the trees with a child’s delight for secret spaces. Here there was nowhere to hide, from God or man or coyotes. Every night their howls chorused in a round, piggybacking on one another ominously as their hunt began. I swear I heard the terrified, strangulated cries of something that they’d caught being devoured one night. These plains were somehow more wild and savage than the forest or even the mountains.


But I rode and rode on the deserted highway. And I started to complain, venomously. At first it was aimless, to no one in particular, just to myself, I suppose. And then I started railing against God. I believe we’re allowed to do that. I believe that even more than praise, God wants Raw. God wants Real. And I believe he loves us so much that he will provoke it out of us before he’ll let us die behind our masks.  


So I railed and ranted and expelled all the acrid bile I’d been suppressing. The sky blackened along with my mood and I rode on, a breeze at my back. Where are you, I asked God? Can you show up just once, tangibly, unmistakably, vividly? Why do I feel this way? Why has the joy been siphoned out of motherhood, my sense of wonder deadened, the color leeched out of my life?


A car roared past once or twice, giving me a wide berth, but otherwise I was totally alone. After half an hour of desperate raving into the silent air, which was gravid with the tension of the looming storm, I gave up. This is futile, I told myself. Pointless. I’m going nowhere.

I decided to go back. I turned in a wide arc on the road and suddenly it was upon me: stinging rain propelled by a unforgiving wind, assaulting me as the effort to pedal the bike increased tenfold. Lightning rifted the map of the sky like a phantom white river and the torrent began, as though the lightning itself had torn open the womb of the clouds. It was like I’d turned my face from day and immediately been hurled into the night. I cursed as my leg muscles began to burn and stooped my head and stopped every thirty seconds to wipe raindrops from my glasses before realizing it was a Sisyphean exercise. I was going to get sopping, soaking wet, and there was nothing I could do about it. I was nakedly exposed on those shelterless, barren plains, a good 3 miles from my house with torrential rain crashing down on me. My teeth chattered and the wind was relentlessly antagonizing me like a single-minded, endlessly resourceful villain, intent on nothing but my demise. And I was taking it all very, very personally.


I couldn’t believe it. Was this my answer? It felt like a challenge, and I was ready to meet it. I was all spite and anger and bitterness. I was Lieutenant Dan hanging from the mast with one arm waving free, cavalierly hurling insults into the storm, taunting and asking for more. I was gloriously hysterical. I laughed at the absurdity of my predicament while at the same time tears of sorrow and futility poured down my cheeks, rivulets quickly swallowed by the glut of rain that already obscured my vision. Darkness visible, darkness risible. I’d been wrenched from my finger’s hold at the end of my rope and was in total freefall.  


I was so busy squinting at the road ahead of me that I didn’t see it until it was fully formed, vivid and color-saturated but at the same time ethereal and otherworldly. It arced above me, framing a heavenly dome over the road ahead, as though it were heralding the entrance to Oz or Vahalla or the Garden of Eden. I braked my bicycle and planted my feet on either side and stared up in awe. In the space of a few seconds, it seemed, the torrent had been tamed to a fine sprinkle, a refreshing spray.


There it was: a perfect double rainbow. A perfect curve, linking treasure to treasure, wedding heaven and earth.


I stood there for a good five minutes, wonderstruck and stultified. A few times I looked around for another sign of human life, incredulous that no one else was there to witness this marvel. There was no one. No cars, no one. A few cattle ruminated lazily in the field, a few birds tentatively sang and, invisibly, slugs and ants and insects and voles worked or slept in secret lightless places below the ground. Just all of creation and me: living, breathing, luxuriating in the majesty of the One who made us.


We are the made-in-the-image ones, the remarkable animals called “human” who can reflect, can know, can marvel, can wonder at the deep mystery and deep majesty of it all. This was my rainbow. Mine. I felt like I had just been baptized again. The world exploded anew with prismatic color and burgeoning beauty and humming aliveness and I knew I had shed the callous husk that had been suffocating my heart. I smiled and laughed and awed at this undeserved extravagant gift, bestowed on me when I’d been nothing but ungrateful.

Lesslie Newbigin said that the ineffable mystery of God is not so much a metaphysical one that arises from pondering the vastness of things as it is a moral one. “It is the mystery of a holiness that can yet embrace the unholy,” he said. The mystery of the vastness is ever present, to be sure - as one of my favorite poets, David Berman, says: “The sea is always there to make you feel stupid.” But it is indeed the sense of lush, opulent generosity - undeserved, unearned, and sometimes even unasked for, yet rained down upon us - that lies at the very crux of the universe.


Without wonder, our souls grow faint. We desperately need the refreshment of our own personal rainbow. Sometimes it does come from the stars, the sky, the ocean. Sometimes is comes from within our most treasured relationships. And often it comes in completely unexpected circumstances, halting us in our grumbling, head-down, belabored steps. Although it is indeed a gift and we don’t necessarily control when it befalls us, I believe we can cultivate our hearts to receive it.


For me, the sense of awe and delight that was so native to childhood barely survived the postured jadedness of adolescence. It was nothing more than a whisper somewhere deep inside me, a rumor of lands of milk and honey long since forgotten. Watching our children’s awe at the most fundamental things - the things we don’t even see anymore because they’ve so far receded into life’s taken-for-granted background - is so pure and delightful and sweet. But I believe we’re called even higher, to a mature sense of wonder that sees the holiness underpinning the world and the people surrounding us, the eternal holiness that animates and fructifies and bespeaks life. And at the core of this wonder is hope - not even directional or specific hope, but pervasive hope, wild hope, indestructible hope. A hope like that can only flourish when we listen to the call of wonder - a call that says stop, be still, look around, listen. There could be a double rainbow right in front of you, calling you home.

An edited version of this article was originally published in MOPS International's Hello, Dearest Winter 2017 magazine. 

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