Cultivating Wonder

Wonder is on my Christmas list this year.

Why wonder? Faith starts with wonder according to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. In God in Search of Man, he writes:

“The sense for the ‘miracles which are daily with us,’ the sense for the ‘continual marvels,’ is the source of prayer.” In contrast, “The surest way to suppress our ability to understand the meaning of God and the importance of worship is to take things for granted. Indifference to the sublime wonder of living is the root of sin.”

These words ring true for me.

My soul needs wonder like my lungs need oxygen.

Wonder is the opposite of auto-pilot or hurrying or bored or a stone-cold, fast-asleep heart.

Wonder reminds me of my place: I am both one small drop in an endless ocean and an infinitely precious miracle. We all are.

Wonder cultivates gratitude and gentleness.

Being human, my heart can be full of wonder in the morning and fast asleep in the afternoon. According to Heschel: “The insights of wonder must be constantly kept alive. Since there is a need for daily wonder, there is a need for daily worship.”

Wonder can’t be manufactured, but we can cultivate our hearts to make room for wonder. We can orient our hearts and our minds so that wonder can take hold of us. If wonder is a gift, our eyes, minds, hearts, and hands need to be open to receive it.

The following are some practices that help orient my heart toward wonder. Maybe they will resonate with you. Maybe they won’t. Either way is okay. The most important thing is to discover what wakes your heart to wonder.

10 Small Practices to Cultivate Wonder:

  1. Spend time with people that have the gift of wonder. Spend less time with cynics and know-it-alls.

This could be time with real-life friends or time with poets or authors. Mary Oliver has this gift. John O’Donohue exudes wonder. Robin Wall Kimmerer in Braiding Sweetgrass has opened up my eyes and my heart to a whole new (for me) way of seeing the world that we live in. Wonder and gratitude abound in her words and in the stories that she graciously shares with us.

2. Ask for wonder. Ask for the desire for wonder. I’m borrowing Heschel’s beautiful prayer:


He cautions: “Nothing will light the wonder in us, when our craving is dormant and our heart both dim and content.”

3. Spend time with Nature.

Take a slow walk with an open heart. Breathe. Pay attention. What invitations do you find?


Christine Valters Paintner’s book Water, Wind, Earth & Fire: The Christian Practice of Praying with the Elements is full of practices that orient our hearts “to the sublime wonder of living” in this world.

Read Braiding Sweetgrass.

4. Watch the sunrise. Read Mary Oliver’s poem Why I Wake Early.

5. Spend some time with the question: How did I get here?

Whether it’s the cosmic collisions of stars and galaxies in my atoms, or the collection of love and survival stories that led to my being here, divinely planned or chance, just the fact that I’m here now is amazing.

6. As you prepare or eat a meal, think about all that goes into the food that you eat. Think about how the earth sustains us.


Give Thanks! This fall, I heard someone say: “If you want to make an apple pie truly from scratch, you’d need to start with the Big Bang.”   As I ate lentil soup this week, I kept thinking: “I’m eating sunlight and rain.”

7. Look at the stars. Imagine yourself looking straight across the universe, not up.

 You’re looking back in time. To light that has already happened. It’s dizzying to think this way.

8. Spend some time with John O’Donohue’s blessing “For Solitude” from To Bless the Space Between Us. 

Any of O’Donohue’s blessings are good company and helpful for cultivating wonder.

9. Spend Time at an art museum, especially with the Ancients.

There is something mind-bending and heart-opening about staring at a vase or bowl or statute that is older than Jesus. I like to think about who made the bowl. What was he or she like? Could he have imagined me looking at what he created? What am I creating with my life?

10. Spend time with Big Water or Ancient Rocks.


For me, this means Lake Superior which is only a few hours away. The rocks that line Lake Superior’s shores are some of the oldest exposed rock in the world. Standing on those rocks, I like to think of how the rocks greeted both dinosaurs and the first humans to walk Superior’s shores. Those rocks will be there long after me and my children and their children are gone. They remind me of my place, and I am thankful for being here now.

/ / /

Wonder is a wake-up call and a gift. A grace. An invitation to participate in a story that is deep and timeless and true.

There are countless ways to cultivate wonder. What practices wake your heart to wonder?

4 thoughts on “Cultivating Wonder

  1. Really late to see this! But not too late to wonder! 🙂 Love this reminder and these excellent tips. I need to set up a time to see you again! Thanks for sharing your very valuable thoughts Jess!


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