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Wonder is a Moonflower

By Shawn Small
In Formed
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My favorite plant in my garden is a moonflower. Its thick green vines wander freely outwards and upwards. In late spring, large white flowers that look like porcelain trumpets bloom only under the light of the moon. They offer a delicious fragrance during their lifecycle, which only lasts a few hours. If you don’t see the moonflower the night it blooms, you’ve missed the miracle. In the late fall, the vines wither up, curling in upon themselves until the plant looks like a russet-colored tumbleweed.

The first year I planted moonflowers I was sad to see our gardener cut away the dead plant, leaving no proof it ever existed. What I did not realize was that the seeds of the moonflower remained dormant. To my great delight, the next spring a new plant broke the surface growing larger than its predecessor.

What if wonder is like the moonflower? Throughout my life wonder has been the North Star that has guided my steps and steadied my soul. Wonder is the lens that brings clarity and color to what would otherwise be a blurry and monochrome existence. But attempting to explain wonder is an awkward venture.

For me, wonder has always been those brief indescribable moments when I have been allowed to see something outside of my normal sight lines, in an otherworld that hides just beyond the veil of our own. A brief glimpse through eyes of wonder causes the most potent of longings to erupt in the deepest parts of my soul. Wonder makes me want something beyond this earth, beyond my grasp, beyond my hopes, beyond my faith, beyond my reason, beyond my imagination. Wonder is the reflection of an indescribable Source, who I will one day meet face to face beyond the veil. Wonder is a reflection of the face of God, a God who longs for our reciprocal love and worship. I have spent the last twenty years of my life on a specific premise: God is a God of wonders and he reveals his presence through those wonders.

Donald Miller, in his classic book, Blue Like Jazz, writes, “At the end of the day, when I am lying in bed and I know that the chances of any of our theology being exactly right are a million to one, I need to know that God has things figured out, that If my math is wrong we are still going to be okay. And wonder is that feeling we get when we let go of our silly answers, our mapped-out rules that we want God to follow. I don’t think there is any better worship than wonder.”

Wonder is a moonflower. Those momentary miracles happen when you least expect them and their aroma stays lodged in your mind long after they are gone. Even in the bitterest of winters, their seeds remain ready to bring new life. Wonder, like the moonflower seeds, can be buried but not obliterated.

For many people, the year of COVID-19 has caused their sense of wonder to wither away. When your sense of wonder is undermined, the fallout is devastating. Once upon a time most of us were full of imagination, play, and laughter. While we lived under the shelter of wonder, we felt safe and protected, naïve to the potential threats that are abundant in the world. Then something happened; something we don’t like to think about; something that, even today, causes a bite of emotional pain. An unexpected trauma detonated and changed the way we view life. For many of us, that is now. In reality, we all experience traumas that remain with us.

As we grow older, the events that shake our lives cause us to exchange the gift of wonder for the burden of a world gone wrong. Often, we cannot remember what that first event was that caused us to doubt the existence of wonder, but as we grow older and endure other emotional and spiritual earthquakes, the possibility of wonder withers away to nothing.

There is a reason this loss is so grievous. When wonder withers we begin to replace imagination and faith, hope and mystery with what we consider the cold hard facts of reality. The fallout is frightening. Curiosity is smothered by complacency. Beauty has no way to compete with pragmatism and safety. Joy drowns in the swirling pool of our cynicism. Awe is replaced by the awful. We believe discovery is impractical at best, or dangerous at worst.

A loss of faith, or hope, or even the will to live is fundamentally, a loss of wonder. This is a casualty we cannot endure. Abraham Joshua Herschel, one of the great Jewish theologians of the 20th century, wrote, “The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living.” If that is true, wonder covered over, locked away, and forgotten holds us back from the fulfillment of life’s greatest joys.

Even in the midst of these tough times, wonder abounds. I have to spend time daily, in quiet worship, asking God to reveal wonder to me. It may be as simple as the good things that have happened in your family during isolation, or finally being able to spend time in your garden, or coming to a greater clarity in your life. Take time to dive into the love of Christ and find wonder. Ralph Wouldham wrote it best when he said, “The love of Christ is not a different love from the eternal fire in the heart of God or that which flows between the three persons of the Trinity. We are loved passionately by God. The self-sacrificing love between the three persons is the joy at the center of God. What is the response from us to such love? To silently wonder. We enter into the ebb and flow of this divine love. The Holy Spirit enables us to know something of the reality of this love in the depths of our heart.”

Please remember, wonder is a moonflower.

FORMED

God is calling us, the people of Irving Bible Church, to become a multi-ethnic movement of missionary disciples, formed in the way of Jesus for the sake of the world.

We want to be a transformed people who experience vibrant spiritual growth together. We want the Spirit of God to shape us more and more into the likeness of Jesus as we follow him.

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