Bishop Reflection: The Gifts of Joy and Wonder
by the Rt. Rev. Deon K. Johnson,
Eleventh Bishop of The Diocese of Missouri
September 18, 2023
“…a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.”
–BCP Page 308
The sand beneath our feet felt squishy and cold. It had been an early start to the day to see the whales on a choppy sea. The mystery of those giant creatures had given way to the tranquility of ocean surf. Looking beyond the waves, the horizon stretched out towards eternity. Little seven-year-old toes teased and tested the lapping water, as our son boldly stepped into the surf of the Pacific Ocean. It was his first time seeing and being at the sea. Joy eclipsed his face as the waves danced as his ankles. Off in the distance the spray of breeching whales interrupted the tranquility of the sea. Giggles of joy filled the air above the surf as he gazed out towards the vastness of the ocean. “Dad! It’s cold! But it feels good!” he said before staring for a long time at the vastness of the water before him.
As a parent I couldn’t only smile with happy tears just below the surface. I had grown up by the ocean. I had spent most of my life darting through tropical waves and shattering the glassy sea with countless dives in the pursuit of shells and glimpses of small fish. My son had not. This was his first encounter with the ocean, and even the with the coldness of the Pacific (we were on vacation in San Louis Obispo, CA, at Avila Beach following a conference in Los Angeles) the sense of joy and wonder was clearly painted on his now ocean soaked face.
I cherish that moment. I imagine that he will remember it for the rest of his life, or maybe not, but I certainly will. It reminds me so much of baptism.
At baptism, when the water has been poured, the baptism has been completed, and the forehead had been anointed the community pauses for a prayer invoking the Holy Spirit to, “give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.” We pray for the gift of joy and wonder in all of God’s creation. But do we expect or even look for joy in wonder as we grow? Have we drained the wonder from our world, from the church, in our need to be practical and mature? Do we expect to discover joy in the mundane and the simple?
Joy and wonder are two profound emotions that enrich the human experience in remarkable ways. Joy, often described as an intense feeling of happiness and contentment, has the power to uplift the spirit and create a sense of well-being. It can be found in life's simplest pleasures, from a warm embrace to the laughter of a child. Joy transcends the mundane and reminds us that there is beauty and happiness to be found even in the most ordinary moments. Joy reminds us of God’s delight in creation when all things came to be.
Wonder, on the other hand, is the awe-inspiring emotion that arises when we encounter something extraordinary or mysterious. It's that feeling of amazement and curiosity that accompanies witnessing a breathtaking sunset, exploring the depths of the universe, or contemplating the intricacies of nature. Wonder sparks our curiosity and drives us to explore, learn, and seek answers to life's most profound questions. God blessed us with memory, reason, and skill to gaze upon the mystery of the Divine all around us.
When we look for God’s presence in our world, in our regular routines, we allow joy and wonder to create a harmonious balance in our lives. Joy provides us with happiness in the present moment, while wonder encourages us to explore and discover the wonders of the world around us. These baptismal gifts remind us of the mystery that exists in the world and inspire us to live with gratitude, openness, and a sense of adventure. They are the threads that weave together the tapestry of a rich and fulfilling life, inviting us to cherish the beauty of existence with wide-eyed wonder and boundless joy and it all starts at the font.
We pray for the gifts of joy and wonder but I often ponder if we haven’t drained the wonder from our lives in order to be more practical. Do we allow ourselves to dream? Do we allow ourselves to let our imaginations soar? Are we comfortable falling into the arms of joy and delight? Or are we more concerned with the practical everydayness of our lives? What does it look like for us who follow Jesus to lean into the places of joy and to dwell in wonder? What does it look like for us as the Church to not only encourage joy and wonder, but to live lives filled with joy and wonder?
The Church might be a very different place if we stood on the seashore, gazing out towards the horizon, letting the waters lap at our toes, and dwelling with the Creator of the universe in a place of joy and a state of wonder. Perhaps we should be careful about what we pray, we may ultimately be called to live it.