Enter the door as if the floor within were gold/ All of jewels of wealth untold/ As if the choir in robes of fire were singing here/ Nor shout. Nor rush. But hush. For God is here. — Orson F. Whitney
A poem printed on a card that was placed in a pew rack was my introduction to wonder as a child. As I settled into my seat right under the pulpit where my father would preach, I would engage in my own ritual. Lifting the card, with its edges warped from my weekly use, I read this poem.
I was captivated by the internal rhymes and the images it conjured, but mostly it filled me with wonder about the sacredness of the space. This space was set apart for me to know God was there. It instilled in me a sense of reverence for coming into the sanctuary, sitting in silence in the moments before the service began, conjuring images of bejeweled floors and a fire-robed choir. Reverence and wonder took root.
Eventually, I knew God’s presence in spaces and times that had nothing to do with church and went beyond things that represented splendor. It took a seminary degree and ordination, however, for me to become comfortable with the idea that I could be in relationship with God outside of my own tradition as well. I could find God’s presence in the chanting of Hindu mantras and Islamic nasheeds. God was not limited to correct practice or even time-honored theology. My understanding of the Divine was enriched by coming to see how unlimited God was: lacking boundaries, living and pulsing in the hearts of people who did not even call God by name — either the name I knew or any name at all.
I became comfortable with the idea that I could be in relationship with God outside of my own tradition.
Wonder became a mainstay of my faith journey. Wonder — curious and nourishing at its best, filled with doubt and hesitation at its most difficult. That little pew card poem that filled me with wonder for the worshipping space had perhaps set my course for seeking some vibrant, living vision of the Divine. It was so close that I had to hush in reverence for its presence.
Valarie Kaur – the Sikh activist, faith leader and founder of the Revolutionary Love Project – has a vision to seed pockets of revolutionary love around the world. She hopes to build a critical mass of people who are building beloved community: antiracist, equitable and sustainable.
In her 2021 book See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love, as well as a TED Talk that went viral after Donald Trump was elected president, Kaur says that wonder is the wellspring for love. Faith leaders through the ages – from Abraham opening the doors of his tent to Jesus Christ sitting at table with outcasts, from Buddha’s call for unending compassion to Muhammad’s plea to take in the orphaned – have taught us to encounter the stranger in our lives with a sense of wonder. When Kaur encounters someone different from herself – someone who even invokes repulsion because of their worldview, their lack of concern for the public good, or their disdain for what might make us a stronger democracy – she repeats, “They are the part of me that I don’t yet know. And I can’t fully love myself without holding the stranger, the one unknown to me, with a sense of wonder.” Surely when wonder awakens, so does a connection to the most intimate ways in which we identify ourselves, our relationship to one another and ultimately our relationship with the Divine.
Wonder has opened my ministry almost exclusively now to interfaith work. Alignment: Interfaith Contemplative Practices, my organization, creates opportunities for faith leaders to share ways in which we experience the Divine. By embracing the contemplative practices of different traditions and incorporating them into our own, we welcome the Divine into our lives. We recognize the Divine in the faces and the prayers of those we do not yet know.
So when we walk through the door of our sacred space, whether physically or virtually, it is critical that we nurture that wonder. We are called to wonder about our own tradition and about its place among all the traditions of the world. We are called to give birth to wonder in a God who knows no limits.