Tending Our Garden:
Curiosity, Wonder, and Exuberance

Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost • August 12, 2018
Scripture Lesson: Ephesians 3:16-21
(adapted from The Message)


     Today is the last Sunday in our worship series on Tending Our Garden. We have had quite an adventure exploring many expressions of the
“fruit of the Spirit,” including, love, peace and joy, gentleness and kindness, and patient endurance. All of these attitudes and behaviors we have addressed are expressions of a singular fruit, that is both a gift from God, but that can flourish only when we take care to tend our garden and provide a fertile and nourishing environment in which the fruit can grow. 

      I noted earlier that the apostle Paul never intended his list of “fruit of the Spirit” to be all-inclusive. Today, we reflect on some that Paul did not mention as we consider God’s gifts of curiosity, wonder, and exuberance

Please join me in a spirit of prayer: 

Gracious God, by the power of your Loving Spirit, open our hearts and minds to your life-affirming message today. Inspire us to be fully present to you this morning as you are constantly present for us. Amen. 

      I am not the first person to to talk about curiosity, wonder, and exuberance as gifts from God and these categories are not exclusive to Christians. So, let me define what I think they mean. Curiosity is the foundation for all advances in human knowledge, science, art, invention, and much more. Curiosity gives us the ability to look upon a situation, a person, an action, or a phenomenon and ask, “Why is that happening here? How does it work? What makes a person act that way? How can I get from here to there?” 

Albert Einstein, the great theoretical physicist, maintained a deep curiosity and playfulness throughout his life. He said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” He immediately connected curiosity directly to “wonder” when he continued by saying, “One cannot help but be in awe when [one] contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.” That is what I mean by wonder – to have a sense of wonder and amazement and awe about people, places, nature, physics, the cosmos, the big bang, about life and death, and about God. Taking time to wonder and having a deep curiosity help to make our lives worth living. 

     God’s deep desire for each of us and for our life together in community is that we should feel free to reach out and experience the breadth, the length, the depths, the heights, and the fullness of life! That’s what I mean by exuberance – the experience of living fully into whatever life we have been dealt employing all the gifts God has given us, and with all the alertness and energy we can muster. Being exuberant means living with energy, excitement, enthusiasm, and vitality. For God’s part, she does everything in her power to make all of that possible for us. As the lesson today says, “God can do anything…far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! God does this not by pushing us around but by working within us, her Spirit deeply and gently within us.”

     So curiosity, wonder, and exuberance fit together. They are part of an array of gifts God offers us to help us live full and meaningful lives. Then, why is it, that so often we do not live full lives? Why do we not practice curiosity and experience wonder? Why do we fail to live with exuberance? What gets in the way? 

     Every child starts out with tremendous curiosity, wonder, and exuberance. You know that if you have ever spent much time around kids. But, from a very young age, we are taught to dampen our enthusiasm or we are punished for expressing too much curiosity. Before long, a lot of stuff starts coming down on us that gets in the way of living fully and with a sense of wonder. Maybe it’s harsh parenting. Or perhaps we get bullied at school. Later, we experience the many forms of social and economic injustice that press down on the our spirits. We talk about these a lot at the Church of the Village and we do our best to challenge. 

     Yet all of this dampening, punishment, belittling, prejudice, and injustice takes its toll. In very personal and internal ways, our view of ourselves gets shaped by the ways we are put down by family, peers, and social groupings. So, we end up with a lot of shame, harsh self-judgment, and lack of self-esteem, which lead to depression, addictions, or a general diminishment of our ability to live and love fully. 

     I was talking with Diane about the message for today and she offered an important perspective from her work with her patients. She said that she works to help her patients free themselves from self-judgment and shame because those get in the way of curiosity. If you are always judging yourself harshly or negatively, you are much less able to be aware and curious about how you think, act, respond. It’s not that a person should have no moral compass or not feel remorse for one’s actions. We still need to work to grow in our thoughts, actions, and relationships. We still need to struggle for love and justice – in ourselves and in the world around us. Yet, we also need to develop the ability to be gracious and forgiving of ourselves. We need to love ourselves if we are grow in our ability to exercise curiosity and wonder about ourselves and others. 
     Jorge suggests that curiosity can be an antidote to shame. He told me that just this week he witnessed a person discarding an empty plastic bottle on the street, while they were in plain sight of a trash bin. His initial reaction was to feel a lot of judgment toward the person, but that morphed into curiosity as he thought, “Why would a person do this? What is driving that decision?” Surely, God’s Spirit was at work in that moment and all of Jorge’s experience opening himself to the fruit of the Spirit over the course of his life was at work. In the moment, he was able to open himself to curiosity, wonder, and compassion toward a stranger. He still opposed the act of littering but, as he put it, his “soul did not get stuck in condemnation.”

     We have to work very hard to overcome our conditioning to judge ourselves and others – sometimes with professional counseling, other times in 12-step programs, always in community with others, like our community in the Church of the Village. In loving community, we can to learn how not to allow our histories, circumstances, shame, and harsh self-judgment, to keep us from experiencing the fullness of life, the fullness of loving relationships, the fullness of beloved community with others, and the fullness of God’s love and forgiveness.  

     I have not suffered wounds nearly as deep as so many people I know, yet I have had my own struggles with poor self-image, with feeling unloved and unaffirmed, with a deep sense of rage. In my mind, I pretended I was always living fully, but in truth, my false sense of exuberance often got expressed in pretty unhealthy ways. I spent many years – decades – working on myself – on trying to become a better person (in my own mind). Looking back, I think I did not make that much progress until two things happened. First, I found my way back to God and the community of Jesus’ followers. And second, I was fortunate enough – fairly late in life and when I had almost given up – to enter into the profoundly loving relationship I have with Diane. In multiple ways, these two occurences laid the foundation for me to become more self-reflective about how I had become who I was. I felt accepted and affirmed for my flawed self, but also encouraged to grow. I believe this allowed my innate curiosity and wonder to flourish and be focused on myself as well as on the world around me. 

     Truly, I never lived with such exuberance and joy before. Maybe it is a function of getting older and wiser, but only in preparing for this message have I come to realize just how much I have change in the past 20 years.
     Curiosity, wonder, and exuberance get express through all sorts of vehicles and passions. Among my own passions are music, writing, growing in my relationships, community building, exploring and learning about nature, physics, cosmology, paleontology, and photography. So allow me share with you some snapshots of the ways curiosity, wonder, and exuberance get expressed in my own life. 

    These Ruby-Throated hummingbirds whiz around our house in Pennsylvania all summer long. On Friday, I was standing four feet away when I heard one buzz by my ear and hover on the feeder, drinking repeatedly, its wings moving so fast they are practically invisible. 

I always feel a sense of joy and awe beyond reason when I see them. 

Since I was a kid, I have loved Sunsets – especially pink and orange skies. I imagine it is one thing that attracted me to photography. I wanted to capture some of that amazement and beauty. This was taken on the Island of Virgin Gorda. 

I was amazed when I found these 6 inch caterpillers on a trip to the Caribbean. They were kind enough to pose for a photograph. I was also intrigued by this beautiful little bird, called a bananaquit. It, on the other hand, eluded my camera. I sat patiently in a grove of trees for an hour and never got a clear shot. So I had to grab this photo from the web. 

I am passionately in love with mountains, lakes, and hiking. While hiking in the Rockies in Montana, Diane and I emerged from a long ascending trail to find this majestic mountain lake. That was 14 years ago. I still consider it one of the highlights of my life.  

     Now, so you don’t think my curiosity and wonder are solely focused on nature, this, too,
expresses curiosity and wonder – mine and theirs. I have been friends with Mike Rodia – the father in this photo – for 19 years. His son, Lukas, turned 13 this year and still has a level of curiosity, wonder, and a spirit of love and continue to amaze me.  

     God gave us these amazing gifts of wonder, curiosity, exuberance and much more so that we could live fully and freely, regardless of our history or current circumstances. Another passage in scripture encourages us this way:

“Don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of Jesus.”  
– 2 Peter 1:3-9 (The Message)

And it's more than just our experience of Jesus. God wants us to experience of all the breadth, depth, and height of life. In a sense, we need to be back to having a childlike curiosity and wonder and exuberance for life. Surely, that’s why Jesus said, “unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kin-dom of heaven.” 
     God’s delights in the ways we are curious and playful, in our experience of awe and wonder, and in our enthusiasm and exuberance for life.  
     I want to share with you a portion of a poem by Mary Oliver that captures her own  

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
– Mary Oliver

As for myself, I choose – and I pray you choose also – to learn and grow together as we tend our garden and strive to live our lives with abundant curiosity, wonder, and exuberance to God’s great delight. 


Copyright © 2018 by Jeff Wells
All rights reserved.