This piece is taken from a sermon/lecture I gave on Sunday, March 30 at the Unitarian Universalist Service in Hood River. It will be in two parts to adhere to the Blog Spot belief in brevity!
Music: Mother Nature’s Son —
As our world unfurls this life-affirming, fecund season of the year, we have, as always, a most blessed opportunity to do noble work through instilling a sense of wonder and sense of place not only in our own soul, but perhaps more important…with others. And this surely is the time for year for wonder. As Abdu’l Baha, Son of the Prophet Founder of the Baha’i Faith said, “The Earth is in motion and growth. The black earth is becoming a verdant garden; the deserts and mountains are teeming with flowers. If we are not happy at this season, for what other season shall we wait and for what other time shall we look?”
Having a sense of wonder means looking upon the world with habitual awe, maintaining curiosity about life’s comings and goings, and reveling in the unusual and unexpected facets of the commonplace. The sense of wonder has been described as a “special sense.” Not one of our essential five senses, but what I call our “sixth sense, a trait that enhances our seeing, touching, and hearing.
Having a sense of wonder can go a long way toward developing a sense of place.
A sense of place can also be included in the special senses. A sense of place is simply being at home in a natural community. Also, developing a sense of place is becoming familiar with land of any size and ownership. This acreage could be home-based or located close to home. Because I am honored to know some of you here in the audience, I am grateful that you already have a keen sense of wonder and perhaps also, a deep sense of place after living here in the Gorge for awhile.
The difference between sense of wonder and sense of place is time. While we born with a heightened sense of wonder which peaks during childhood then sadly ebbs as we age, gaining a sense of place grows as we spend days, weeks, years getting to know and feel an area. I love what writer Barry Lopez expressed in his book Arctic Dreams when meeting with native peoples who spend their lives with ears close to the earth: “A man, in response to a question about what he did when he visited a new place,, said to me, I listen. That’s all. I listen, he meant, to what the land is saying. I walk around it and strain my senses in appreciation of it for a long time before I ever speak a word. Entered in such a respectful manner, he believed the land would open up to him. Barry Lopez learned to be alert for the openings, for that moment when something sacred reveals itself within the mundane and you know the land knows you are there.” Isn’t that wonderful! “The land knows you are there!
So we have a sense of place developing through wise familiarity and our sense of wonder being innate and just wanting to stay with us forever. When sense of wonder and sense of place are combined, the results are natural awareness, and a belief that natural awareness leads to self or spiritual awareness.
The Practice of Wonder:
How does one go about discovering or re-discovering one’s sense of wonder and place?
Many ways of conscious living come from participating in the Knowledge — Volition — Action process. Knowledge…not learning facts and figures per se, but learning various practices, concepts, and ideas. Learning from the land, predicting when seasonal and annual changes will occur. When typically is the first frost, the first appearance of robins, the best time to harvest corn. This information will come from neighbors, books, and from recording changes on a regular basis on the land you visit and/or own. Observation is the keystone of understanding. Place-based knowledge is helpful when deciding what is best for the land, how to incorporate change, which leads us to…
Volition, What do you do with knowledge? Hopefully, it leads to a desire to do something, which is volition. For a lot of us, volition comes into play on New Year’s Eve when resolutions are rampant. Volition means the will to change. I promise to….That’s the plan, but unless carried out, these aspirations can easily be forgotten. That’s where public declarations can be helpful. At our annual August Peace Village week, each 6 – 13 year old camper announces to the other 150 participants their pledge to change one aspect of their lives toward more peaceful actions. Being true to our plan transforms into…
Action: Clearly the most important component of Knowledge, Volition and Action is definitely Action. I like the AmeriCorps slogan of “getting Things done.” Planning can bring communities together, but actual accomplishments are tangible success that can be catalysts for even more actions. “By Jove, we worked together to restore this wetland; let’s start working on the next one down the road!”
A Simple Example: Self-promises can be simple and few. How about: I will get outdoors more. This is a good one, because a sense of wonder is harder to enhance and expand while indoors! (Grand Canyon skyset story). So, go somewhere wild and special to you. Go alone at first because Solitude features a one on one relationship with the natural world, a chance to be alone but not lonely where you can go at your own pace. (Remember my children’s story I told earlier about the girl’s Magic Spot experience). Magical things sure happen frequently when we go outside! As venerable nature writer Sigurd Olson noted, “As I sat there on the rock, I realized that in this remnant of old wilderness would speak to me of silence and solitude, of belonging and wonder and beauty.”