Stop and Wonder
When was the last time that you felt even a small sense of amazement? Where were you? What were the circumstances? Were you alone or with other people? How often do you have an experience that sparks the feeling that the world is full of things we can’t possibly understand or control? Do you know what a “murmuration” is? If you click here, you will see how it is connected to those questions, I promise!
When I was 23 years old, I went on an Outdoor Educator backpacking course run by the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) in Wrangell-St. Elias Park, a true wilderness the size of Rhode Island in Alaska. I’d been running 1 and 2 night backpacking trips for Camp Ramah Darom in North Georgia for a few years at that point, and felt like I needed real training in order to gain the skills to build the program further. That trip was one of the only times in my life that I have lived outdoors for more than a few days, and it was transformative for many reasons.
Outdoor experiences like that give me a paradoxical combination of feeling both connected with something larger than me and simultaneously feeling tiny and insignificant in the grand scheme of the universe. It’s a hard feeling to explain, and it was not until much later that I began to understand that feeling is part of what people mean when they talk about spirituality. I can reliably get it when I see mountains, excellent stars at night, deserts, huge waterfalls, and sometimes sitting at a beach. I can sometimes get it in a Kabbalat Shabbat service with real ruach (spirit) on Friday night, or when we do Hallel at Gesher. I also get it when I see things that are completely natural but that science hasn’t yet explained, like the starling murmurations I referenced above.
When I started learning about modern Jewish thinkers I encountered the term “radical amazement,” which was coined by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel to describe the feeling I am referring to. It is the sense of wonder and surprise that is missing for most adults in the course of mundane, everyday existence, though it is clear that our children experience it far more often.
Many modern Jews are not connected to prayer or blessings, which can be used to help connect ourselves again with the practice of being suprised, amazed, and grateful for things which we usually take for granted. Imagine what your life would be like if you took a few moments each day to reflect and give yourself the space to be amazed and grateful for your health, your family, your sustenance, or your community. What a fundamentally different start to your day you would have!
At Gesher, we spend some time engaged in those practices daily, and when the weather permits, we are lucky enough to be able to do so outdoors. Because most of us spend much of our lives inside walls, something about being outside for reflection jolts us out of our normal “take everything for granted” perspective, and creates an opening for radical amazement to seep in. Helping children create the habit of gratitude sets them up for meaningful lives as adults, and it is one of the blessings adults who work in schools receive as well. We can get very rusty if we don’t practice accessing these feelings, which is why prayer and spirituality are often referred to as a “practice.”
This Shabbat, I encourage you to speak with your loved ones about this feeling – ask them what amazes or suprises them, and share the same for yourself. See if together you can think of a way to stop interrupt your regular routines and practice feeling that feeling once in a while.