The difficulty of wonder

A week ago last Friday, I went hiking with my son, Sumner. We took off after work to a popular hiking/mountain biking area, Tiger Mountain, not far from our home. And no, there are – to my knowledge – no tigers there.

The day was gorgeous, the trail near empty, and the lushness of the vegetation extraordinary. We commented on the “zones” we went through from dark, almost ominous forest to bright meadows to areas where mossy trees bent over the trail forming a cathedral of dappled light.

I periodically stopped to photograph some small detail that stood out: the gentle curve of a newly emerging fern, the smooth stone of a stream bed, the expanse of wildflowers just beginning their journey to full expression of brilliant summer color.

We spoke of God and the mysteries of such places, of the joy of being there at that particular time of day, of the transition from school to summer, of friendships passing as students graduate, of memories of past summers and the hope for future ones.

We appreciated this day, this hour, our time here together and the fact that it is so close to home. We missed little in our examination of the beauty that surrounded us except for one thing.


I had just spent that morning talking about wonder during my presentation on The Power of Place. Sumner and I discussed it on the drive to the trailhead. We even hinted at the subject as we hiked through a grove of trees with mysterious white stripes painted on their sides. And yet, amidst all the factors that should have triggered a response of awe and wonder, none came.

Surprise? Curiosity? Thankfulness? Attention to details I’d otherwise walk right past? Yes. But not wonder.


Wonder does not come easy to most of us over the age of ten. We spend our lives explaining things, solving the unknowns and attempting to bring order to the chaos in our lives. We have adult answers even to those things we don’t truly understand. We don’t make room in our lives for wonder because as adults we don’t feel we need it in our day-to-day struggles to just get by.

Sometimes, however, wonder sneaks up on us. It can even overwhelm us to where we have no choice but to pay attention. More often, however, we must pursue it with intentionality if we are to find it.

Wonder is neither easy to find nor easy to grasp. It wouldn’t be wonder if it was. Wonder is our response to something so new and marvelous that it shakes us and draws our full attention as we realize we’re in the presence of something we’ve likely never seen before, at least in that time, place or in that way.

Somehow in all the beauty of this day, I’d missed the deeper wonder. The funny thing about wonder is that we rarely miss that we’ve missed it. It was a great time of living in the moment and enjoying a good conversation, the simple warmth of the sun, the green coolness of a leafy canopy, the minty smell of fresh cut logs or the gentle cacophony of numerous small waterfalls.

Only later did I realize that seeing the day through the eyes of wonder might have made a good day even better. At first the thought made me sad, a tinge of regret invading a happy memory. Then I realized something else, a wonder of a different sort.

In God’s economy, nothing is wasted. I may have missed the opportunity to see the wonder behind the beauty at the time. Yet as is common to most good trips, reflection after the event affords me a second chance.

I may not have perceived wonder in the moment but I can now realize this:

It was there all along.

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