How to Stay Astonished in Five Simple Steps

How’s the old Kathy Mattea song go?   “Standing knee deep in a river, and dying of thirst.”

My wife puts up with me, but it has to be annoying.

“Isn’t it funny that we ingest food,” I say.   Or, “It’s so strange that we have these orbs in the front of our heads that rotate, and that using them somehow results in us ‘seeing.'”  There may be any number of these “isn’t life strange?” statements from me during the day, at which point those aforementioned orbs in her head start rolling.

But I can’t help it.   The fact that we are here astonishes me.

That markings on a material can create communication.   That the seemingly gibberish sounds of other languages have structure and syntax, and that those language emerged at all.   That hearts beat without being plugged in.   For years.   That there is now feverish activity going on in garages and offices and bedrooms and kitchens all centered around creativity and invention that will one day yield future technologies that will put the work of Steve Jobs into a distant, remote past.   Geniuses are being born even today.   Starlight millions of years old will tonight just be arriving in my Seattle sky.  Every relationship is a miracle.   Balance, eye-hand coordination, home runs (in season, at least), and self-sacrifice…all astonishing.   Concertos, voices that can hit high C’s, the warmth of a home, the compassion that wants the warmth of a home for everyone, the impulse to not follow the cruel impulse those that insult and demean us seemingly deserve.    Bodies, processes, architectures, leaves falling, petals of brilliant color inching into being, the storehouses of snow prepping at the hand of God to inflict both beauty and suffering on a wintered country.

I know…we’re too busy to be astonished.

So here’s five simple things to turn up your astonishment on any given day.

  • 1.   Stop what you’re doing.
  • 2.  Breathe
  • 3.  Focus on one thing in front of you.
  • 4.  Reflect on the following:  how did it come into being?  What might the world be like if it was completely absent from everywhere?   What if the thing under reflection was perfected?  What is its goodness in your life?  Who should you thank for that goodness?    Why is there any goodness at all, that we should enjoy it?
  • 5.  Remember that your ability to “do”, to have agency, and to act–that thing that you stopped in step 1–that your breath that you thought about and noticed in step 2, that your ability to shift your mind into a focused point of reflection, musing, remembering, and imagining–steps 3 and 4–that all of this is frankly, miraculous.

We did not ask to arrive on the planet, and contrary to our beliefs, we do not control our exit.   The days are full of surprise, diving possibility (as Barbara Brown Taylor reminded me this morning), dangers, and moments of astonishing reality.

There is always something a bit healing about standing aware inside a miracle.

As you exhale, let your lips form a small “wow.” 

9 Replies to “How to Stay Astonished in Five Simple Steps”

  1. I believe that just because a scientist or an engineer can explain how & why an airplane flys, or how a wrist watch works, or how & why a baby is conceived, develops, and is born; just because we know how and why does nothing to diminish the miraculous. Thank you for reminding us that we are miracles ourselves and are surrounded by them as well.

    1. You’re welcome. Once someone explains the how of a thing, the temptation is for the thing to go mundane. That’s a shame…I will always be astonished when the airplane I’m on lifts off the ground…


  2. Do you suppose Jesus had a twinkle in his eye when he said, “Consider the lilies of the field…”? The eyes looking at this page and the hands typing these words just happened to be? This computer just happened, too, maybe?

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