"Awe, Mystery, Wonder"
-today at dawn-
Yesterday, as I listened to a radio broadcast of people telling stories of their holiday memories, I immediately called to mind a time when I was about 6 or 7 years old. We were living on a farm just outside a little hamlet located in a very rural area of New York State. In the center of town there were two churches, a one-room schoolhouse, a bar, and a store.
Yesterday, my Christmastime childhood memory was about the store in the center of that little town. It was an amazing place to a child of six. It was immense - a place where you could buy all sorts of wonderful things, everything imaginable. The store was chuck full of farm equipment, tools, groceries, school supplies, seeds, clothes - you could even buy gas for your car there.
At Christmastime, they pulled out all the stops. Everything inside and outside the store was bedecked with bright colored lights, ropes of garland, towering trees of pine. A nativity set, a Santa statue and Frosty the Snowman completed the grand display. It truly was a wonder to behold and filled my young soul with a sense of awe, mystery and wonder.
Many years later, living in the city, married with my own children, I took my family on a little road trip out into the country to see if we could find the tiny hamlet of my childhood home. In particular I wanted my children to enjoy the wonders of that amazing store at Christmastime.
Well, we did indeed find the store. After all those years, It was was still open, right next to the school, the bar and the two churches - and to this very day I can still vividly remember the deep disappointment I experienced when I came back there to visit as an adult.
The amazing store I remembered from my childhood was actually a small little barn-like building that sold lots of stuff-mostly junk. You could still buy a few grocery items there- a quart of milk and some bread. They sold a few tools, some seeds and various "sundry" items - shampoo, paper clips, maybe a hair brush. It was all pretty tacky.
As for the glorious Christmas display - a strand or two of twinkly lights, some artificial trees, a plastic Nativity Set and a Santa statue that needed a good cleaning.
I realized that this little store had probably looked exactly like this when I was a boy, but before, I was seeing it all through the wondrous eyes of a child-still able to be surprised by awe and amazed with mystery.
Now I was seeing it through the eyes of an adult. I now held advanced degrees, I had travelled the world. I had become "sophisticated." So now I saw the amazing Christmas store of my childhood memories as nothing more than a "two-bit" convenience store selling gaudy items in a farming town.
This morning I reflect on my adult disappointment upon seeing the "little" country store, and I realize that in my life, the more sophisticated I became, the smaller life became for me.
The older I got in life, the more I achieved. I had achieved success in my career. I had arrived at the places to which I aspired. My advanced degrees provided me with lots of answers so I could "figure it all out" -so that I could even figure "God" out.
However, the more I achieved, the more I arrived, the more answers I came up with, the smaller my world got.
This morning I sit in my meditation garden in the desert and I witness the dawn. It's breathtaking - a stunning spectacle. Suddenly I realize that I am again filled with a sense of awe and mystery and wonder in my life.
Now in my later years of life, all those achievements don't actually mean all that much to me anymore. I no longer rely on my astute theological ideas. In fact I find most of the "God words" I used to use to be somewhat hollow and empty. Most of my answers have turned into questions.
As I sit in my desert garden, I think that maybe my unbelief is leading me to a new threshold of faith.
This Christmastime, my world has become a lot bigger.
read more about the "General Store" in my book: