“I suspect that somehow our wonderment actually feeds the Earth…”
The Sunset Club.
There is a cliff on the edge of the Monterey Bay overlooking a well visited beach where, on any given evening, you’ll find a group of strangers gathering to watch the sunset. The faces change, the size swells and shrinks like a poppy opening and closing across its days. The only communication shared is the sound of pleasure as the light shifts, each never-before-seen-magnificence is greeted with sighs and sweet moans of delight.
When you join that group, sunset becomes compelling in a new way. That nattering voice that tells you its silly to stand and look at the horizon for a half hour is drown in the rapture of sharing the feeling of wonderment with so many strangers. You find yourself talking to the sunset, urging on each transcendent explosion of color. We are helping make this happen. We have become a larger body of wonderment – that greater heart that says “YES” to each unfolding moment.
Wonderment is built into childhood, pretty much all you have to do as a parent is not get in the way of it. Unfortunately life does have a way of creating wonderment pot-holes, places where the wonderment of life should nourish them with rich story, preparing them for an adulthood ripe with ecstatic potential, but where instead there is a void or worse yet – suffering.
“Papa, where did all the Native Americans go?”
Wonderment needs grief, grief needs wonderment.
I should really be able to answer this question, honestly, with compassion in a way that makes sense to my son and preserves his wonderment power. Really though, my answer is rough and incomplete, because we have not collectively come to a place of truth and reconciliation about that history. We have not properly grieved, so there is a void.
We create stories around those voids in an effort to enable wonderment, but that doesn’t carry us far enough. What we’ve made from hiding from grief, from giving up wonderment is ultimately disappointing to some part of our spirits. We know there is a deeper dance out there, but we don’t know how to get to it.
I’ve written about some wonderful attempts to re-attune us to wonderment made by very mainstream people. Wendell Berry recently wrote about the deep value of having “affection” for a place, Chief Justice William Dougless dissent in Sierra Club vs Morton mentioned those who have a “meaningful relation” to a place. Both are trying to re-introduce a discussion about soul-filled connection to place into a culture designed to see such wonderment as debilitating. That place you bought is an investment, not a home to settle into. We can’t be too attached to the land, we might wind up like the original native peoples.
There’s a reason why its so hard for us to establish laws around our attachment to the land, which is such a primary source of wonderment for so many: our way of life is built on being mobile, and consuming what the land has to offer without consideration. We don’t live in a world of grief and renewal, just of eternal consumption. We occupy the grey space between grief and wonderment without fully experiencing that which lies just beyond our reach.
We have always owed the world our wonderment.
This is the time of year when I journey to Santa and ask for gifts to give my family (read more about that here). The Santa I visit is less related to our consumer icon than the Ancestral spirit likely journeyed to by the original Nordic peoples who were contributors in some way to our culture. Though there are many tributaries to the Santa story, its likely that Reindeer herding peoples who use anamita muscaria in community rituals journeyed on the backs of Reindeers to healing spirits. It is those spirits, and their connection to the Elfen nature spirits, I work with every year, and increasingly at other times of the year as well.
This year I was instructed to make True a blessing wand and gift Tadg an Elf hat as an expression of his kinship with the Elfen people and their work with nature. I was also instructed to weave Terry a healing crown from the Cedar, Lavender and Manzanita blossoms on our land. I quickly became entranced making Terry’s piece, feeling the power of the plants, the spirit working with me, and the moment weaving themselves together. The intoxicating fragrance threatened to carry me into the otherworld completely.
Tadg was deeply touched by his gift, and took it very seriously. Somehow his heart already has room for the grief he needs to feel in order to keep his wonderment alive. He chose two family friends we’d lost touch with for a time to call into the Elfen clan next holiday season, perhaps as a way of healing his sense of loss of their presence. That hat stayed firmly attached to his head for several days, I’m sure the moment will be connected to his heart for the rest of his life. Grief and wonderment gave birth to a passionate connection that day.
Leaving the job of wonderment in the hands of children has its cost.
For most of us who grew up with Christmas, the wonderment of Santa dies well before puberty, his presence is never allowed to evolve from a childhood giver of gifts to an ancestral giver of wisdom. That gateway to the world of nature as divine, ancestor as vital relationship, will close forever for most. We lose some deep roots that might nourish our wonderment.
We often talk about avoiding grief in our culture, and thats a very real thing. Perhaps though our lack of grief is due more to a lack of authentic naivete, an inability to access wonderment. Maybe thats our work, to open to wonderment, and welcome the grief that may come. What if all the suffering our culture wreaks upon the world is directly caused by our inability to access wonderment in our daily lives. Somehow, I don’t think those who start the wars of the world live from wonderment.
I suspect somehow that our wonderment actually feeds the Earth. It is the moment when our souls give forth their presence most palpably, I always find it so healing to be around people who are in wonderment or who have recently experienced profound wonderment (one of the reasons why Christmas with kids is so nourishing). It feeds the soul as few things do in life. Giving into that wonderment takes trust, and somehow, grief re-establishes trust with life.
Today I spent some time with a stream I’m learning to sing to. With the recent strong rains its grown into a wide, brown dance of voices, pushing back against the quiet green of the forest floor. My song is my souls way of sharing who I am with the stream. Perhaps its the water in me, reaching out to the water of the stream. I’m convinced this stream carries with it many stories, perhaps even the stories of the original peoples of this place. If I offer up enough of me, perhaps it will respond in kind, filling out its rich winter song with stories it gathers in its travels.
I feel, as I sing to it, its spiritual presence coming into view like a great brown snake roiling through the water, celebrating.
I’ll sing you my soul-song,
for the bread of your journey.
to teach me to greive
to receive life
to restore balance.
I’ll sing you my soul-song
for the bite of a snake.