I recently came across a stunningly beautiful short video by Shawn Reeder entitled Yosemite Range of Light. Using time-lapse photography matched with beautiful music, Reeder shares his artist's view of the natural world - a view that turned me to wonder, and curiously, left me with a sense of hope. It's hard to put my finger on why I felt hope at the end of the video. Perhaps it was the hope that, if humanity wakes up to the beauty around us, we can preserve and protect our natural world. Perhaps it was a more personal hope, a hope that nature can and will continue to restore and renew my soul.
About the same time I found this video, I was preparing a session on "Hope" for a Courage & Renewal retreat for a group of clergy and lay leaders. Among the many books, essays, and reflections on hope that I was reading, I found Brother David Steindl-Rast's book Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer. I was drawn to one particular section that related hope to surprise, a connection I had never made before. Brother Steindl-Rast wrote: "The heart's response to life as surprise is hope. The more the insight that life is surprising takes hold of us, the more our life will be a life of hope, a life of openness for surprise."
Was it the surprise I experienced in viewing the video that stirred my sense of hope? Was it my heart's response to the beauty of the images and music? I can't say for sure, but it did turn me to a deeper wondering about surprise and hope and the human heart's response.
In Healing the Heart of Democracy, Parker Palmer relates the word heart to its original meaning. He writes "Heart comes from the Latin cor and points not merely to our emotions but to the core of the self, that center place where all of our ways of knowing converge - intellectual, emotional, sensory, intuitive, imaginative, experiential, relational, and bodily, among others. The heart is where we integrate what we know in our minds with what we know in our bones, the place where our knowledge can become more fully human."
I like this view of the heart as strong, central, and integrative - not the sentimental heart of Valentine's Day cards, or the heart of emotions that we are warned not to "wear on our sleeves." I also think that for a heart to be strong, it must be exercised. Could openness to surprise be one of the ways we exercise our hearts? And if so, how do we open our hearts to surprise?
After chasing these questions in a "which comes first, the chicken or the egg?" thought loop, it took the return to my retreat preparation ground me again. In reviewing our Courage & Renewal "touchstones" - the invitational guidelines to creating a supportive community in our retreats - the touchstone entitled Turn to Wonder captured my attention. This touchstone reads, in full, "When the going gets rough, turn to wonder. If you feel judgmental, or defensive, ask yourself, "I wonder what brought her to this belief?" "I wonder what he's feeling right now?" "I wonder what my reaction teaches me about myself?" Set aside judgment to listen to others—and to yourself—more deeply."
I recognized that this is one of the ways I can exercise my heart - by turning to wonder at my experience of another, or of my reaction to a given moment. In effect, it is inviting me to be open to surprise in the moment. And in that openness to surprise, I often find myself feeling hope...hope for a different relationship with the "other" with whom I am struggling, hope for a more compassionate acceptance of myself, flaws and all, hope for what might be possible.
Reeder's video, to me, embodies the essence of the turn to wonder touchstone. What do you think? What turns you to wonder? What opens your heart to surprise? To hope?
John Fenner is director of Courage & Renewal Programs for Clergy and Congregational Leaders. For more information about these programs, click here .