The Astonished Life

The second in a series of five Holy Week posts on the Pray Channel at Humane Pursuits

I stepped into the dingy apartment my newlywed friend called home. She met me with a hug and pulled me into the bedroom to talk. A real bed was out of the question – money was tight – so we sprawled over their spongy mattress and crooned over wedding pictures.

Before long she was confiding other things. She felt differently now. There were secret disappointments. Growing mutual frustration. Family made life miserable. Friends pulled them down. Most of all, it was the money that wasn’t there – oh the money!

My mind drifted back to another day with this friend, two years before. She had been dating him then, but they had hardly been able to speak to each other for weeks. She had grown nearly frantic, so I drove her across the state to see him. The trip, for her, was agonizing. Then, from the front seat of my car, she had spotted him 2 blocks off. Something in her escaped with her gasp of recognition. A few moments later she was fumbling with the lock – and then they were in each other’s arms, speechless in sun-warmth on a cracked sidewalk.

The next day, on our trip back, she had gushed about the home they would make together. “We won’t be able to afford a real bed, of course,” she laughed. “But we can sleep on the floor. Together! On the floor with my soul mate. I always dreamed of this. It will be SO FUN!”

I had laughed – both with and at her – and agreed. “Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be,” Lincoln once said: she had set her sights on a kind of heaven.

Now, I ran a finger over the frayed blanket, bit my lip, and wondered if I should remind her of her gushy optimism two years before. How different life feels in the thick of things!

I thought of others, too. At what point do we lose the capacity to revel in little things? Some friends had adopted a fulltime attitude of entitlement. Even some of the more exuberant ones were now more likely to voice complaints than compliments. And yet how an earlier awe had once bubbled over with joy!

Driving home later, I wondered if my own heart had grown blunt. A clause from my personal creed, written at 19, rang tauntingly –

Resolved, to maintain a tender awareness of life’s small delights. I refuse to become so superior or callous in mind that being noticed is not a wonder, being appreciated is not a surprise, and being loved is not a miracle…

But the soul becomes blunted so easily. “How are you doing?” I once asked a teenage boy in the throes of family conflict. He had paused. “My heart is dull,” he whispered back. The voice held fear.

Sometimes the wonder rushes back, and one revisits the awestruck existence of childhood. Waiting for a friend’s plane to arrive last summer, I stepped into a random church and forgot myself when the worship began. When I worship, I often think of the small world that unfolds below me every time I board an airplane. I remember how small I am, and try to imagine how great He is.

That Sunday I had felt so loved on a bad hair day, tired and late in a 120-degree car, that I nearly cried for thinking of it. It was too much to think that I could roll my hands over the scorched steering wheel, grab a snack, and barrel down the highway while Almighty God, sitting in the heavens, plotted to bless me and be to me “a Rock of refuge, to which I may continually come.”[i] It was too much to think that I could be so satisfied, so cared for, so rich in little things.

The patriarch Jacob had felt this awe. “The God who has been my Shepherd all my life to this day…the angel who has redeemed me from all evil…” he murmured to his grandsons. The nagging spirit of entitlement had been forgotten.

For a moment, with Jacob, I felt the grandeur of the thing. We are capable of blessing others – of believing that we can – because we have first been blessed.

In the gospels, we find a common reaction among all who encountered Jesus: they were amazed.

“The crowds were amazed…”“The disciples were amazed…

“…the governor was quite amazed.”

“They were all amazed…”

“…And they were amazed at Him.”

“His father and mother were amazed…”

“All who heard Him were amazed…

“They were fearful and amazed…”

“…they were awestruck, and glorified God”

In direct connection to Christ, amazed appears 26 times in the gospels alone.[ii] The sense of it springs up even more frequently.

The astonishment has sometimes even been too much to bear. “Who among us can live with the consuming fire?” Isaiah asked.

Then, in Acts 2, the early church. “Everyone,” Luke records, “kept feeling a sense of awe.”

Through history, Christian denominations have tried to replicate various aspects of the early church: having all things in common, giving up possessions, performing wonders & signs. But who has tried to find the fountain from which all these things spring?

Surely it is the wild sense of awe when a mortal lays sight of the Divine. And for a moment, sees everything else clearly.

The reality of existence is wonderfully astonishing. How much more to have been created, to be wanted, to be loved?

It is one thing to feel this in a moment, but what if a person could live with a sense of awe?

Some do. They are the meek – the humble ones – they will inherit the earth later, and they seem to enjoy it more now.

If I imagine myself a demigod, if I believe that I am born perfect and destined to live my dreams, every abrasion in life is a maddening frustration and I hate the universe that has waylaid my stardom. I am not superman, and every minute of my life confirms it.

On the other hand, however, if I embrace the sticky and unromantic truth that there is inherent brokenness – that I have been lost – pain is expected. Abrasions are manageable. Best of all, every pleasant thing is delight. Every stormy morning is a miracle and every friction is an opportunity to heal. I am a broken vessel in the hand of a whole Creator, and I never lack cause for awe. Every day I meet the Divine, and I am astonished.

Mankind is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.[iii]

The business of mending may be tense, but it is exciting on a divine scale. The mattress of life comes lumpy, or sometimes, we sleep on the floor. But it is the life surrounded by love for which the soul hungers, and this is the life we have. Now we see dimly: one day, we will see face-to-face.

Extravagant sin cries out for extravagant grace, extravagant grace for extravagant gratefulness, and extravagant gratefulness for extravagant joy.

It is my brokenness that humbles me, but it is the Creator of the galaxies who lifts me up. And so, with humble and needy people since time began, as I encounter God, I live amazed.



[Editor’s note: this is the second in a series of five Holy Week posts on the Pray Channel at Humane Pursuits. Visit the others from Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.]

[i] Scriptures cited: Psalm 71:3, Genesis 48:15, Genesis 47:8, Matthew 7:28, Matthew 21:20, Matthew 27:14, Mark 1:27, Mark 12:17, Luke 2:33, Luke 2:47, Luke 8:25, Matthew 9:8, Isaiah 33:14, Acts 2:43, Matthew 5:5, I Corinthians 13:12

[ii] NAS

[iii] Author unknown


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