A book I began recently, Speaking of Faith by Krista Tippett, proposed the idea that We can construct factual accounts and systems from DNA, gross national products, legal code, but they don’t begin to tell us how to order our astonishments, what matters in a life, what matters in a death, how to love, how we can be of service to each other. These are the kinds of questions religion arose to address and religious traditions are keepers of conversation across generations about them. (Speaking of Faith, p. 8-9).
How to order our astonishments…a wondrous phrase that made me sigh into a knowing yes-nod. Such a particular word, astonish or astonishment. The specificity of choosing that word was part of the attraction for me because I find myself considering the concept not infrequently.
Shock, astonish, surprise…linguistic cousins, but not triplets.
One of my thoughts re: surprise/astonishment is that it’s the difference between “EEK!” and “Wow! Seriously? Huh…”
I wondered what others thought about the nuance of the words so I posted a question to friends on Facebook. “Is there a difference for you between being surprised and being astonished? What’s the distinction, if any?”
One friend explained that for her, it was simply an issue of gradation. Her talking parrot uttering an insightful thought= surprising. Her dog= astonishing.
The first comment, though, and its subsequent 8 likes by others was enough to confirm a common leaning of multiple friends. One is being caught off guard and startled, the other being amazed by the outcome.
One of the qualities of Jesus that I most admire is that he is never seems surprised. Enter the chaos, don’t contribute to it. Receive people as they are, send them forth confirmed or consoled or challenged to change if they so choose. Hope for the best, deal with what is.
Astonished, though? Perhaps. I mean, there’s no lack of emotion or the slightest hint of a flat affect… Could NOONE stay awake??” Astonishment. Sorry, Mom, Dad… you were actually looking for me and didn’t think to look here?? Astonishment.
My own astonishments could certainly use some ordering these days.
That the president of the United States is still allowed to Tweet: astonishing. That the great focus of this past week has been on football players peacefully bowing down to one knee during the national anthem in protest of police brutality when a country that is a US territory is still without water and electricity after a devastating hurricane= Astonishing. The perfection of a dahlia flower=Astonishing. The generosity of God, the compassion and cohesion, of feet on the ground humanity after a disaster=Astonishing. The fact that grown men, the leaders of two powerful militaries with access to nuclear armaments are taking up international headlines because they are calling one another names= astonishing. The wonder of chemistry that allows for vinegar to be added to soup and the whole potful of goodness brightens and blooms=astonishing.
And so I find myself with all of this and with God…and together astonishment seems to bloom. Not into understanding, perhaps…rather, into perspectives…
Sometimes the perspective is a scary one…to lay witness to the devastating potential of the worst aspects of human nature…greed, egoism, narrow-minded righteousness, fear…
And sometimes the perspective is humility, is grace, is love, is awe.
Both are real and how I react to them has consequence that goes beyond me.
Like the rich man who walked away; Like those who went home when the offer came to throw the first stone. Like the women who stayed. Like those who sat on a hillside, offered what they had for the good of the whole, thought about a bigger picture, and in so doing left everyone satisfied.
Please help me live in the here and the wow. Help me order my astonishments and hold them together in truth, hold them together in the fullness of your heart, the greatest Mystery, the greatest perspective.