April Theme, Wonder

April 21, 2016

Join us this 2015-2016 academic year, as we take time each month to reflect on a theme as a learning community. Hear from faculty and staff in a personal reflection on the theme, as they consider how the concept applies to their life and work. See here for an overview of these themes, which will also be highlighted in each month's school e-newsletter.

The theme for our school community this April 2016 is "Wonder." Where does wonder take our breath away, or challenge our view of self and others?

Download (& save or print!) a PDF of this April 2016 Calendar.

Staff member Ryan Walker has written this month's personal reflection--speaking from the heart about how he has considered the theme. Ryan is the Senior Administrative Assistant of Stewardshiphere at the School of Theology and Ministry.


Personal Reflection on the Theme, "Wonder"

The summer before I started kindergarten, my grandmother, a firm believer in the power of the written word, taught my sister and me to read. The memories are foggy, but she used materials called Hooked on Phonics, a combination of VHS tapes (it was the mid-1990s), cards, and booklets. It was presented as a game, and my sister and I spent many afternoons that summer ‘playing Phonics’ at her house. I remember one day, after the session, she handed me a book. I don’t remember the title or really much of the content—it was one of those See Spot Run sort of books. I do remember realizing that the words I was repeating explained the pictures, and expressed things about the pictures which the pictures themselves could not. I remember feeling frightened and excited. Though I could not at that time articulate it, I was realizing that my world was expanding to a degree that boggled my five-year-old brain.

“At moments of wonder, it is easy to avoid small thinking, to entertain thoughts that span the universe, that capture both thunder and tinkle, thick and thin, the near and the far.”
― Yann Martel, Life of Pi

Just a few years later, my grandmother gave me a book called The Horse & His Boy by C.S. Lewis. The plot revolves around a boy and a talking horse searching for their lost homeland and discovering just how big their world truly is—with plenty of magic and adventure thrown in for good measure. I couldn’t put it down. I read it in the car, on the playground, on the beach, even in my room after my mother demanded I go to sleep and turned off the lights. When I ran out of pages, I went back to the beginning and read it again. The real gift was not the book or the reading lessons. They were catalysts which allowed me to first experience wonder and more importantly, to respond and to wonder myself. I wondered at all the beautiful and strange things in the world, let my imagination run rampant with ideas, drew maps of places like Narnia that I had created and wondered about it my head. All of this led to curiosity and a hunger for learning which has yet to be sated. As Plato claims through Socrates, “Wonder is the beginning of Wisdom.”

I have struggled to maintain that sense of wonder as time has gone on and my responsibilities have grown. Our society, while it does cherish child-like wonder in children and agrees with Socrates to a point, demands that we set wonder down as we age, that we temper our sense of wonder or our imaginations with reason and even fear. Our culture calls the result of this wisdom or prudence. I disagree.

I think about the questions I asked as a child, “I wonder, how do birds fly? I wonder, why is that lady so sad? I wonder, how many stars are in the sky?” I find myself prone to asking a different set of questions now when life takes a left turn, “I wonder, how will I pay my bills this month? I wonder, will she break up with me? I wonder if I’ll get this job. I wonder, will they accept me? I wonder, what happens after I die?” A more appropriate verb for that last group of questions might be “I worry that x.” It is striking how these questions tend to be self-centered. I fear that I won’t get my piece of the pie. I am scared for my future. I am terrified of death.

Worry is a healthy, necessary part of life, but not when it is confused with wonder. Wonder is one of the few true proofs of divinity within us—Imago Dei. It leads us to learn, to lie, to experiment, to build, to push ourselves and others, to tell stories, to strive, to create meaning in the world and make it a better place. It encourages us to look outward, at the world in its beauty and ugliness and especially all of the beautiful people around us. It is the sacred human trait. One of my favorite quotes is from Einstein who said, “He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”

Worry is something we must do, but we must find the balance between the two—μηδὲν ἄγαν and all that sort of thing—or else we are not really living. Not really being human. It is not the only distraction that prevents us from wondering or at least causes us to forget how to. But it is the one I struggle with most. My fervent prayer is that I will not succumb to the idea that worry is the grown up version of wonder.

I realized recently that I need to spend more time with children. Their sense of wonder is much healthier than mine and more importantly, it is contagious!

Traveling via Bush plane with my Dad Juneau, AK September 2015