I Wonder As I Wander

person under the stars

When I was a small child, I loved to look at the night sky. Doing so in Milwaukee was not the best experience, given all the ambient light, but what a difference when we were at the lake. My father and I would sit on the dock and he would tell me the names of the constellations and how to find them. I would look at the sky, marvel at its beauty and be entertained with stories of why the stars, according to legend, were where they were located.

As I got older, however, the conversation about the sky changed. Instead of listening to stories about Orion’s belt, I began asking more difficult questions. Could we travel to the edge of the sky? How big is the universe? Why doesn’t it collapse? My wide-eyed wonderment became a search for answers and sometimes the response – or lack thereof – filled me with dread. This beautiful, star-filled sky became a vast, cold, scary, incomprehensible place. The wonder had become fear.

When we’re young, it seems that there are correct, comfortable answers to every question. Two plus two equals four. Every word has a correct spelling. Each statement on the test is either true or false. An action is right or wrong. There is no middle ground, no “yes, but . . .” And then, we discover that the world, and perhaps even our faith, are not that simple. It becomes clear that what we don’t know is vastly greater than what we do know and so often we are left to wonder what to do or in what we are to believe.

The definition of “wonder” holds contradictions within itself. Unlike most words, it is both a noun and a verb. It denotes actions as well as things or objects. “Wonder”, as a noun, is a feeling of surprise, perhaps mingled with admiration or at times, with dread. It is caused by something unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable. Synonyms include admiration, amazement, fascination, and awe. As a verb, wonder can mean to ponder, speculate, or puzzle about, or conjecture; it can also mean to feel doubt about something. It is not a word that means only one thing – it is more than simply “yes” or “no.”

It is Advent now, a time in which we await the coming of the Christ Child –a seemingly simple story of the birth of a long-awaited child. We prepare. We make things ready. We anticipate. A story as old as time – and yet, this birth is different. The birth of the Christ Child is a birth full of wonder, of more importance than we possibly could comprehend. Perhaps we need to look at this story in a different light, particularly this year as we watched the world as we knew it simply disappear.

In the December 7, 2020 issue of Verilymag.com, in the “Playlist” section, Emily Lehman muses about what the holidays will be like this year:

For some of us, myself included, this may be a bit of a blue Christmas. But I’ve found that many of my favorite Christmas songs emphasize something that can draw me out of sadness—the contemplation of the truth, re-seeing the mystery of Christmas as something new. I’ve always loved the rarely played carol “I Wonder As I Wander” for its mysterious lyrics:
 

I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
That Jesus my Savior did come for to die.
For poor on’ry people like you and like I
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

It’s a good year to embrace the mystical side of Christmas—to wonder at the joy that takes over the whole world this time of year, to wonder at the history of a festival making its way down through the centuries, and, if you’re a Christian, to wonder at the birth of God. Let [this song] help you see the mystery anew.

Perhaps it is time for me to go out, again, under the sky. This time, maybe I should wander a bit more and not be so concerned about knowing the answers. For someone who practiced law for many years, not knowing every possible nuance runs counter to my training. Just like the child who sat with her dad so long ago, I want to know the answers. But in this unusual year when so much has been unknowable, perhaps I should heed the words of Ms. Lehman and live in mystery for a while. This may be a good time to wander under the sky and wonder about the love of God who lived, and continues to live, among such “poor, [ordinary] people like you and like I.”

Let us pray...

Dear God, we thank you for the gift of the Christ Child. Help us as we wander under Your vast sky and wonder about your love for us. Give us the courage to go on even if we don’t have the answers. Be with all of us as we await the birth of the Holy One who we will greet in wonder and awe and mystery. Help us to know that despite all of our missteps along the way, You are ever present in love for all your wandering children.

Kathryn Baerwald

Kathryn Baerwald

Member of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Boise ID

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