Sermon July 25, 2021
The Gift of Wonder
Job: 12:7-10 “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; 8 or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. 9 Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? 10 In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.”
It’s so nice to be with you once again this morning. For many of us, summer is passing too quickly but hopefully, we are trying to make the most out of this lovely season. There is so much to see and hear and smell and touch in the summer as we spend more time out of doors. It is a time when all of our senses are invited to enjoy the fullness of God’s creation. It is a time to recapture our sense of wonder. There are the grand vistas as we stare out to the horizon across an expanse of the ocean while walking along the seashore and then there are the small wonders, the petals of a flower or the intricacy of a spider web in the sunlight, that speak to us of the generosity of our Creator in the most minute of details. Recently, I stepped out into our garage and looked up to see a spider web; It wasn’t a beautiful, delicate web; no this one had things caught in it, and it wasn’t pretty, but it immediately brought me back to memories of my childhood and a special story that I have loved all these years. Let us pray, O God of wonder and delight, we ask that you help us to pause in these precious days of summer to be attentive to the beauty which is all a gift from you. Open our senses, calm our spirits and enable us to be present to the moments of each day. Amen.
As a child, my parents used to take us camping quite a bit because, with 7 children, this was a very economical way for us to travel, to visit state parks throughout New England as well as to visit Canada. And they loved to find the campsites which were quiet and a bit more remote, not the kind of camping where you are on top of one another. We had plenty of time to roam and explore and take in the full experience of being outside. Of course, growing up, we spent hours upon hours out of doors exploring and having adventures and playing with neighbors or whoever was around on the street. It was surely a different time and life seemed very simple indeed. On camping trips, though, we’d face some of the challenges of nature-raccoons who’d come in the night to try to steal our food and the mosquitos which made us crazy, and of course spiders. I was always afraid of bees as I was stung a number of times as a child, but spiders never really scared me. Perhaps that was because an amazing teacher in elementary school shared a book with us is still near and dear to my heart, Charlotte’s Web. Every day when we finished our lessons, she would invite us all to just sit and listen as she worked from chapter to chapter reading that beautiful story aloud to the class. To this day, this classic by EB White has helped me to appreciate living creatures, and especially pigs and spiders, in a way that I might not have if I had not been introduced to it. White’s capacity to animate a barnyard full of animals was magical.
In a book review from the Harvard Crimsom from 1971, Bill Beckett praised the beauty of this book and the importance of hearing it read out loud. E.B. White did in fact do a recording of the book at that time. Beckett wrote, “Charlotte’s Web is a moving story in other ways: E. B. White is one of America’s greatest essayists, as well as one of our greatest storytellers. Listening to him read Charlotte’s Web will make you remember some of the more important things you used to know as a kid but have forgotten. It may also help you to believe (or at least make you want to believe) in some of the things you believed in as a kid, but have lost.” (March 13, 1971)
Can you reach far back into your memories and consider some of those important things that you knew as a kid? What things did you believe then that may have been lost through time? What brought you wonder and delight in our natural world? What things did you believe about God, about the mysteries of nature, the dreams of the future that you wish you still believed today?
You may remember some of the details of Charlotte’s Web, originally published in 1952. Beckett summarized it this way, “Charlotte a common grey spider, out of friendship for Wilbur, a pig who is to be butchered, promises that she will save him, and does. She does it by playing a trick on Mr. Zuckerman, who owns the farm where Charlotte, Wilbur, Templeton the rat, the cows, and the geese live. She knows that “people are very gullible… easily fooled,” so she spins the words “SOME PIG” into her web, in the doorway above Wilbur’s pen. Zuckerman is fooled, and decides that “a miracle has happened and a sign has occurred here on earth, right on our farm, and we have no ordinary pig.” The local minister explains the miracle in his next sermon, as he tells his congregation, “The words on the spider web proved that human beings must always be on the watch for the coming of wonders.” Wilbur becomes a sensation, and a prize pig. Before she dies, Charlotte leaves Wilbur a sack of spider eggs that hatch and provide for Wilbur a new generation of friends for each new spring; protection against loneliness, and proof against time.”
I recall that, like so many others, I cried when I heard that Charlotte, the common grey spider, had died, as spiders and all living creatures will do. So many of us who had the joy of hearing Charlotte’s Web read aloud to them as children or who read it on our own have carried these characters in our heart, along with an appreciation for the story and its message to always be on the lookout for wonders.
In the Young Adult book, Some Writer! The story of E.B. White, author Melissa Sweet presents a wonderful overview of White’s life and his life-long love for nature and our beautiful state of Maine. He once wrote, “What happens to me when I cross…into Maine? I cannot describe it, but I do have the sensation of having received a gift of true love.” You may or may not know that White was also an essayist and wrote for the New Yorker for many years. As a child, his family came to the Belgrade Lakes region every summer and he loved his time of exploration there. Years later, he and his wife, who was also a writer, bought a farm in Blue Hill where they raised animals and their son Joel in the quiet and solitude that he so enjoyed. This farm, along with the spider, pig, geese and other animals who shared this home, became the inspiration for Charlotte’s Web. White wrote, “Once in everyone’s life there is apt to be a period when he is fully awake instead of half asleep. I think of these five years in Maine as the time when this happened to me…I was suddenly seeing, feeling, and listening as a child sees, feels and listens. It was one of those rare interludes that can never be repeated, a time of enchantment.” He concluded, “I am fortunate indeed to have had the chance to get some of it down on paper.”
He wrote other children’s classics as well; he loved writing for children and sharing correspondence with young people who wrote to express their love and their deep appreciation for his books. I know that many of you share a love for the beauty, the simplicity of children’s books and the ways in which they touch our lives; many are truly ageless in their beauty, inspiration, and capacity to give expression to thoughts and feelings deep within our hearts and souls. They remind us to be on the lookout for wonder. Our God is indeed a God of wonder who has blessed us with amazing gifts in every season of the year and throughout the seasons of our lives. Today, I invite you to find a children’s book and rediscover something you may have known or believed from childhood. Today, I invite you to look for wonder and to take a moment to thank God for the beauty of the earth.
I’d like to close with a letter that E.B. White wrote in 1973 to a group of sixth-graders who had written to him about their love for his written work.
ID 121595801 © Volodymyr Muliar | Dreamstime.com