It snowed in the Rockies Wednesday night, and Thursday morning dawned bright. The white on blue made the mountains taller and closer: it pushed them skyward, pulled them eastward. They loomed in all their wild holy beauty, vivid, huge, daunting, inviting. Driving to work, I almost swerved into the ditch from sheer distraction.
All around here are roadside signs that announce, starkly, grimly: “Distracted Driving Laws in Effect.” At first I thought they were targeted at cell-phone users. Now I’m thinking they’re meant for people spellbound by the scenery.
This is my third week living in Cochrane, working in Calgary. Three weeks is still a raw beginning. But day by day, the land becomes known to me, the house settles into a comforting sameness, the rhythms of the work place feel more natural. The strangeness of it all gives way to familiarity.
A good thing, and not.
I taught a lesson last week on the theology of new beginnings. I’d never really thought about it before, but now I do a lot. What struck me is that the Bible is written largely for a transient people: Adam and Eve forced out of Eden, Cain exiled from family, Noah abandoning society, Abraham called out of Ur, Jacob fleeing Beersheba, Joseph dragged out of Canaan, Moses escaping Egypt, David running from Saul, and on and on and on. God watches over a displaced people. Strangers in a strange land. And Jesus comes as heaven’s refugee, as divine vagabond. His refrain: “Foxes have holes, and birds often air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
“Come,” he says, “follow me.”
Which means seeing new places, meeting new people, often. It means saying hello a lot.
There are many skills and attitudes for this, but this I’ve found huge: wonder. The downside of familiarity is the loss of wonder. We stop noticing, stop beholding, stop being curious, stop being in awe. The beauty all around us – in landscapes, in situations, in conversations, in people – becomes mere backdrop. Spectacle becomes mundane. Sighing and yawning replace having our breath taken away.
These three weeks have reawakened in me wonder. I see with fresh eyes, hear with unstopped ears. I sometimes gasp in astonishment. I know in time this will grow dull, but I intend to keep it alive as long as I can.
So Distracted Driving laws be damned: I choose awe.