wonder

Art, music and a distant longing

by Steve Brock on January 30, 2015

Sacred Places by Christian Burchard

I’m driving home from a meeting. The radio is on. NPR. Garrison Keillor to be exact, his lounging voice reciting in its rhythmic gait the words of Anne Porter’s poem, “Music.”  You can (and should to fully appreciate the meaning of all this) pop over and read her poem now.

Work by Jason WalkerBack with me? Her poem surprised me since it ends in a far different place than where I expected at the start. But such is the nature of good writing and good trips.

Two days later, I take a short trip over to Bellevue, WA. It’s not a typical tourist destination, but it’s more than sufficient for our needs. I’m taking my wife on a date to make up for more than my share of travel lately. We have a wonderful lunch then we go to the Bellevue Art Museum.

I love their exhibit of John Economaki’s work at Bridge City Tools, of Jason Walker’s whimsical yet thought-provoking ceramics and most of all their BAM Bienniel 2014: Knock on Wood. As the name suggests, all of the works in this latter show were made in whole or in part from trees.

Have you ever been somewhere – a museum, a fair, a restaurant or even a party – where you enjoy each piece, experience, dish or person individually, but collectively they build to a cumulative sense of sheer delight? That was my feeling at the show, but even that description doesn’t capture exactly how I felt.

Perhaps it was wonder.

Or maybe something more. A reaction more akin to longing. More like this line from Anne Porter’s poem:

Why is it that music
At its most beautiful
Opens a wound in us
An ache a desolation
Deep as a homesickness
For some far-off
And half-forgotten country

Substitute the word “art” or even “travel” and the sentiment still holds true.

Works by Morse ClaryWhy is it? She answers that question in the last stanzas of her poem.

Is what she writes the only answer for how we feel? A complete answer? Likely not. But is it satisfying? In its own way, yes. It helps explain why all of us have these moments where we encounter beauty that moves us so profoundly that we don’t know what to do with it or with ourselves.

Music, art, even travel touches us and reminds us that:

We have been wandering
But we were made for Paradise
As deer for the forest

So close, so far 1-3 by Brian WilsonWe retain only vestiges of memory of our lost native country and when windows – gaps or glimpses more likely – open up and open us up to that half-forgotten place, we sigh. We know it to be true. Or at least, we want it to be true and sometimes that may be enough.

Works by Helga WinterWhat this short trip did was remind me that in music, art, travel or other areas of passion, we find not what we may have been looking for, but what we need to be reminded of. We need these soul-stirring awakenings in this life to remember that there is more to (and than) this life. So much more.

And best of all, in and through all of this, we have a Guide who brings us to these moments, moments of wonder that satisfy us even as they stir in us the yearning for that something more. A Guide who, as Anne Porter notes,

also came to live with us
And wanders where we wander.

Therein lies the deepest wonder of all.

 

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Start before you leave

by Steve Brock on August 6, 2013

Here at The Meaningful Traveler, I’m about to launch into a series on Seeing the Old in New Ways. I’ll use a series of photographs from my recent trip to Europe to point out ways to think about, photograph and just plain see with new eyes the places you think you know so well.

But how do you go about finding a fresh perspective on places you know firsthand or have viewed in numerous pictures? We’ll see…

For now, I want to start with this simple reminder: Start your trip before you arrive or preferably, even before you leave home.

Think about – practice in your head before your trip – the idea of seeing with new eyes, capturing images in a fresh way or looking beyond the obvious. If you do this before you depart, you’ll greatly increase the odds of actually pulling it off once you get to your destination. They say with athletics that you can derive half or even more of the benefits of physically practicing – say, perfecting your free throw in basketball – if you visualize doing it over and over even when you’re not on the court. The same applies to thinking about how you will see on your trip.

If this all sounds rather abstract, then just do this: Be prepared. Be open and curious. Travel expectantly, looking for something even when you least likely expect it.

Here’s a great example:

Rainbow from plane window

My son Connor and I are chatting on the plane as we leave Seattle for Amsterdam a few weeks ago. We’re no more than five to ten minutes into the flight when we look out the window and see this rainbow. I fly out of Seattle all the time and rarely see anything like this. But here we are on a trip to Europe with our anticipation geared toward what we’ll see once we get there, and God throws us a rainbow in our own backyard.

Had I been too consumed with what lay ahead of me – Europe – instead of being present to the journey itself, I would have missed this. Fortunately, I came prepared, had my camera right with me, and handed it to Connor who snapped this shot.

Think about what it means to be present, to see – to truly see – before you leave and chances are you’ll be more adept at realizing the wonder even in the most familiar of scenes. Seeing the world anew rarely happens by accident. It takes practice. But it’s something you can practice anywhere and any time.

Now might be a good time to start…

 

 

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Surprise and wonder

by Steve Brock on July 17, 2013

I’m in Louisbourg, the recreated 18th century fort on the island of Nova Scotia, Canada. I’ve seen many of the reinactors throughout the day, especially those playing the role of soldiers as in this photo.

Soldiers at LouisbourgExcept for the modern-day spectacles on a few of the actors, nothing seems amiss.

Until I look more closely.

Actually, I didn’t look very closely when I took this next photo. I just liked the composition of the posts and the soldier leaning against the wall.

Leaning Soldier at LouisbourgBut after I snapped the shot, the person playing the soldier smiled at me. This actor, I gather, is used to being photographed. After all, that’s part of what they are there for. But when I saw the soldier smile, as small a thing as it is and as weird as this may sound, I had a bit of a shock. A surprise that bordered on wonder.

Wonder and surprise are interrelated. I’d say that surprise, in many cases, is a mild form of wonder. We can be surprised by something new or just by the suddenness of encountering something unexpected. And such was the case here. For if you look at the soldier closely, that isn’t a guy (as you would logically expect since in the 17oo’s I seriously doubt any soldiers were women).

She had this beautiful smile because she was a beautiful young woman dressed in this soldier’s outfit. Because I didn’t expect it, it threw me for quite a loop. Why?

First, I was embarrassed because she was aware of my taking her picture. That seemed to be fine because she continued to pose for me afterwards (though none of the other photos were as interesting). Still, I felt as if I was busted, like staring at a person you don’t realize you’re staring at until they give you a quizzical look.

Second, I had this fleeting feeling of being back in high school around a pretty girl and not knowing what to say. Silly, I know, but I was so taken aback that I was rather tongue-tied.

Third, I was surprised that I was surprised. By this I mean that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed earlier that this soldier was female. How could I have missed that?

Thus, the real wonder (if we can really even call this wonder) came as a combination of factors all caused by a single surprise. But because of this, if you ask me about that day now two years later and you inquire as to what stands out the most, I’d say it was this odd moment taking a photo of a young woman dressed as a soldier.

I used to think it was rather wimpy of me to fall back on the excuse that I couldn’t explain wonder. Now, I think it is par for the course. If you could explain wonder, it wouldn’t be wonder. If I could tell you why such a seemingly minor incident left such an impression, well, it probably wouldn’t have left such an impression.

I’m learning to be OK with not having explanations for everything we think or feel or experience on a trip or at home. Even small moments of surprise. I am learning to just accept them even if I don’t understand them and be thankful for wonders, both big and small.

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The wonder of us

by Steve Brock July 11, 2013

What’s the greatest wonder in the world? There are lots of options but let me suggest a very familiar one you see every day…

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The wonders you missed the first time

by Steve Brock July 2, 2013

In the midst of travel, we don’t always catch the wonder around us. But photos help us to see the wonder we might have missed at the time.

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Wonder in the rearview mirror

by Steve Brock June 26, 2013

When you lose the ability to wonder, sometimes what you need to do is look forward to your next trip…or look back on a past one.

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Hard trips and wonder

by Steve Brock February 16, 2013

After a hard trip, we can often experience wonder in ways that we’d normally miss. Especially when you’re standing in the sea and an inexplicable wave comes rushing at you out of nowhere…

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