Wonder: A Spiritual Emotion
Wonder Dec 23
December 15, 2023

By Heidi Goehmann

Wonder: (noun/verb) an emotion connected to curiosity with a twinge of awe when confronted with something unexpected and not entirely explainable

When I was little, my parents met and married; not too long after we moved into a new home. The house was ugly, but the land was beautiful, horse pastures on one side, a pond on another side, and the woods wrapping around the rest.

First, I need to tell you about the ugliness of the house, though, because honoring the ugly alongside the beautiful is important. Our ranch style home had the following features:

» Fake brick vinyl flooring

» Fire engine red wallpaper and carpeting

» Extensive paneling

» A half-finished basement with a room we were encouraged to avoid called “the back room”

» A wall of mirrors in the living room with gold filigree splashed across the surface

YET, IN THE UGLINESS … WONDER.

That first or second Christmas in our home, I remember bare subfloor and segments of wall with chunks of wallpaper missing.

I woke that Christmas morning and tried to peek between the spindles of the stairway into the basement to see the presents and gifts under the tree, but the angle was wrong. I ran through the hall of (ugly) mirrors and down the stairs.

When I turned toward the Christmas tree, I experienced wonder:

» The tree lights glowed

» The fireplace was quietly crackling

» The treats for Santa lay on their plate inexplicably half eaten

» The presents, oh the presents!

» Magical, shiny packages with bows, crowded under the tree; a play kitchen and an inch worm tucked into the corner, each begging for someone to play with them

It was beautiful. It was surprising. Something beautiful in the middle of all the ugly things of the world usually is. There was meaning in that moment of wonder my young mind didn’t understand at the time. My mom and I had spent several Christmases on our own or with friends after my dad died when I was young. Moving, renegotiating life, and blending a family is upending for kids. New homes are lovely, and home construction usually brings financial constriction and unexpected problems. I remember the stress of it all as well as my parent’s excitement in building a life for us as a family.

 As a young child, I stood gaping at the tree, aware this magic was constructed for me and my sisters by my parents, but also, just maybe there was Someone bigger at work.

Wonder is not always comfortable. There’s an edge of mystery to wonder. It is the experience of half-understanding. Wonder is an expansive emotion. It grows inside of us and fills us up. The surprise of wonder is an emotional elevator according to Brené Brown and other emotion researchers. It makes the emotional sparks within wonder stronger—joy, fear, excitement, pleasure—all fuller with the surprise and mystery of it. And wonder according to researchers also has three realms: sensory, cognitive, and spiritual.*

Wonder—an innately spiritual emotion. How wonderful is that? There are emotions within us made to connect us to something bigger than ourselves—to God, to Christ, to the universe, to humanity, and to the experiences of being human.

GOD IS A GOD OF WONDER

The Greek word for wonder (most commonly found in the New Testament) has to do with God’s work among humanity, for humanity. Wonder biblically is about seeing God more clearly among our humanness.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, wonder is often connected with fear-filled awe. The wonders of the first parts of the Bible are plagues, warnings, battles. Yet, in the Greek Scriptures, wonder often has to do with healing and the awareness of divinity touching a moment through Jesus’s arrival onto the scene.

Immanuel is about an invitation to wonder. God with us means we can notice that God is, in fact with us.

Wonder invites us to be surprised by God’s mystery, to let God be big, to half understand Him and to enjoy for a moment how God fills us and this world with beauty, even when the world around us looks anything but beautiful.

Wonder leaves us feeling more connected rather than alone in this world.

Listen for the presence of the pronoun “they” in Matthew 15:30-31 (ESV):

"And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, so that the crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel."

HOW DO WE PRACTICE WONDER?

We can’t demand wonder from God, nor can it be falsely produced. It arrives, like presents under the tree on Christmas Day or a tiny baby in a manger. We can watch for it, look for it, welcome it.

We can allow the sensory experience of wonder to kick in with some basic mindfulness—touch and feel more things around us, taste intentionally, look around for the contrast of beauty and ugliness and settle on it.

We can also practice curiosity. Kids are good at this. Their natural instinct is to allow the opportunity for wonder by asking questions, looking under rocks, letting the mystery be magical. When, who, what, and where have you seen God recently or had a sense of something bigger than you?

Let out your Christmas kid and let wonder grow.

 

Writer, Deaconess, and licensed clinical social worker, Heidi Goehmann writes and advocates around the topics of mental health, relationships, and Jesus. She is a certified EMDR clinician and trained in Gottman methods for marriage and family therapy.

Heidi can always be found at heidigoehmann.com.

Read more in her book titled, "Emotions & the Gospel: Created for Connection."

References: Atlas of the Heart, Brene Brown - https://amzn. to/3FvWWFs

*NYU research on the emotion of wonder as a spiritual emotion: https://aeon.co/ essays/why-wonder-is-themost-human-of-all-emotions

This article has been reprinted with her permission from her website.