Last Friday I led the noon-day interfaith service at the hospital where I work. It is an task that each of the interns, residents and staff chaplains take in turn to offer a fifteen or twenty minute interfaith service each day. A few people have asked me for the service, so I tried to write it up as closely as I could to the actual event.
I choose wonder for the theme of this worship earlier this week—thinking about this time of year, the wonder of the birth of Jesus in the Christian tradition, the wonder of the oil lasting seven days in the Jewish tradition, and the wonder of the turn of the year, the equality of light and darkness in the celebration of Solstice. With this theme in mind, I went looking to poetry and songs that could help create a space where wonder was explored. Here’s the poem that I found with which I started worship:
We are living wonders. Our bodies, our minds, our souls, unfathomably intricate beyond all knowing. The true essence our being, a microcosm of unlimited possibility.
Living in wonder. Behold the marvels of this vast universe. Consumed by the mysterious unknown, desperately we seek to understand it, eagerly trying to grasp all that is.
Wondering why we live. What purpose is there for our existence. Many say this. Others say that. All answers become more questions. Forever we wonder.
We are living wonders, Living in wonder, Wondering why we live.
I thought about how wonder, in the children’s religious educating system of Godly Play, is encouraged and fostered. Questions like “I wonder...”; “I wonder what would happen...”; “I wonder if that person thought...” provoke a kind of curiosity that in itself holds a kind of spirituality. Wonder consists of question and it consists of awe and it consists of the deep unknown that we will never be able to explain.
The night before I presented this worship, two friends of mine lost their one-year-old baby girl. She had been in the NICU as a newborn and her entire family had gathered around her. This tiny child had defied all odds, living much longer than the medical staff anticipated, learning several signs to communicate with her parents, and capturing the hearts of those around her. Milly was known as Wonder Milly and her family and friends had created banners with the wonder woman symbol; the W sign on top and in the same font an M for Milly below it. Milly embodied wonder, its awe, its question and with her death, that deep unknown that we will never be able to explain.
Two other friends of mine lost a child several weeks ago in-vitro. Still in the womb, Ottille was a bright experience of wonder to her parents. Her life, as new at it was, had brought immense joy to my friends. In the story of Job, amidst his suffering and his lament, he says “He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted.” (Job 5:9). Ottille was and continues to be a wonder of creation, a wonder full of awe, and in her death question and that deep unknown.
I dedicated this worship to these two little girls. I hope that Milly and Ottille will find each other in the afterlife and become the best of friends. I carry their deaths in my heart as I work with the families in the NICU now and create space from them to wonder, wonder what will happen, wonder why this is happening, and wonder at the miricle of this precious life in front of the.
I also dedicated this worship to all the patients in the hospital who are defining all odds and are true wonders to the medical system. I dedicated this worship to each of us, my friends who have experienced such tragic loss and all of us who struggle with those questions of “Why?” “Why me?” and “Why this?” May we find community and solace among each other’s company as we as M. Zazu wrote are “living wonders, living in wonder, wondering why we live.”
In addition, during the worship I played Natalie Merchant’s song Wonder, we read prayers from the community left on our prayer board and I closed with a quote from Tim Muldoon, an Ignatian write. I’ve included both the link to the song and the quote below. Blessings to all and may you live in wonder during these precious winter days.
Seeing God in all things is about challenging the concepts we have formed about God over the course of our lives, recognizing that they are always limited. Part of the way we as human beings think is to break down our world into manageable chunks; we develop a sense of how things work based on what we are able to understand. If God is God, though, our understanding of God will always be very limited. We must be prepared always to challenge what we have previously thought about God and allow God to challenge us to think in a new way. When we allow ourselves this kind of open-eyed wonder at the world, rather than assuming we’ve got it all figured out, we will begin to be surprised. God will begin showing up everywhere!
—Excerpted from The Ignatian Workout by Tim Muldoon