We need to nurture our sense of wonder. Otherwise, we take the world for granted, forget the privilege of being alive and allow our souls to become eclipsed.
My own sense of wonder has worn cobweb thin over these cruel, bitter times: the hostages still captive after 120 terrible days for them and their families, the dreadful war with its appalling cost in Israeli and Palestinian grief, the lack of well-founded hope.
So I did something crazy, because I understood that to keep going and caring I had to renew my spirit. Wonder nourishes the love of life, love of life makes us more aware, awareness makes us more compassionate, and without compassion, what are we?
I found myself with an entire day unexpectedly free. Open before me was the winter magazine of The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds:
Join us at Loch Lomond; watch thousands of geese rise over the water at first light.
I couldn’t make the dates for their guided walks, but what was to stop me going on my own? ‘Head torch, boots, warm clothing, that’s all you need,’ the charming staff at the RSPB lodge told me.
I booked my train tickets; I’d be in Scotland for less than twenty-four hours, but what’s long or short when you nourish the soul? I arrived at night and set out at once to savour the darkness, breathing with the stately trees, watching the moon between the bare branches of the beeches.
Six next morning found me on the well-laid paths by Loch Lomond. The woodlands were a realm of wordless prayer, each tree a sentinel at the border of an invisible world. What’s a year, ten years, or a century to an oak? They humble us, these trees; they liberate us from the siege of endless thought, the battering of depression and frustration. They embrace us in their silent meditations and windswept songs; they simplify us inside.
The waters, when I reach them, are, like the cloud above them, still depths of grey. But the first birds are waking, and the cold air carries their brief songs over the water. Then the geese begin to call, at first just individual birds. The early shift has awoken and alerts the others: dawn is rising, dawn is rising, prepare for flight. The night slowly pales.
The honking and crying grow louder. I turn to face the direction from where the swelling chorus seems to come and suddenly I see them, skeins of ten, thirty, fifty birds, too many to count. They fly like a great arrowhead, each goose in the slipstream of those in front, only the leader alone at the sharp point, its neck stretched into the wind. One bird, fallen behind, strives to resume its place upon the wing. Their cries mellow and soften as they grow smaller over the water; I cannot see where they land. The loch resumes its silence, and the small birds’ songs become audible once again.
Soon I’m back by the A road, roaring with rush-hour lorries. I promise myself not to let them, or all angers of this cruel world, crush this glimpse of wonder out of my soul.
Tomorrow, we will read the Ten Commandments, the account of God’s great revelation.
I’ve been privileged to have my own small moment at my personal Mount Sinai and, in my own way, I believe I’ve overheard God speaking.
Now the challenge is to keep listening, to stay faithful to that voice, in a world where people do murder, steal, dispossess, lie and commit subtle cruelties.
So I pray, for myself and for everyone: God, may the wonder and beauty of your world protect us, sustain us and guide us through these cruel and brutal times.