• The Regular Wonders

    The Regular Wonders

    I once entertained a guest from North Queensland on his first visit to New Zealand. He drove a rental car through the North Island and arrived at my place ecstatic about what he’d seen. I found him early the first morning looking at my back lawn and the neighbour’s hedge. “This is fabulous,” he said.

    Well, I thought the lawn looked OK, but — fabulous? Even at its very best, this would be a bit over the top. “Thanks Mac,” I said. “But it’s not a wonderland. It’s just the back lawn.”

    He looked at me and shook his head, and I knew he was seeing a Philistine. It had been the same the previous evening when he had arrived, agog about his trip. “We saw snow!” he said, and I’d said, “Oh, yeah. Ruapehu?” “You don’t understand,” he said. “Snow! I’m from Cairns!” I’ve been to Cairns. Suddenly, he’d made his point.

    I thought about him this week, when it snowed in Wellington. Actual snow, settling on the ground. The girls I teach were approaching frenzy. “Can we go out in it?” they asked.

    We’d just been discussing The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and someone said, “Field trip.” Well, we went out, and they walked about, and squealed, and held up their faces with their mouths open, and after a while we came back in again. I wondered what anyone from some place where snow actually snows, would make of it all. And that’s about when I remembered Mac.

    Snow is pretty special when you’re not used to it. I guess rain is, too — say in Alice Springs. I watched a little boy from the Canadian prairie crying in a Wellington wind last year: freaked out. The air stayed still at his place. I bet the annual first sunrise is very big in northern Sweden, after the 24-hour darkness of the Arctic winter.

    God still puts on the best shows. I took the coach trip to Ayers Rock, which the locals prefer to call Uluru. “Don’t miss the sunrise,” they told us and there, in the Australian desert, at dawn, were 45 luxury tourist coaches and a battery of home video tripods all solemnly filming the sun rising on the Rock. My son Phil on a visit to the USA drove around a lot and attended a number of rock concerts featuring his very favourite bands: when he got back, I asked him what was best. “Grand Canyon,” he said. “You’ve gotter see it.”

    It doesn’t snow in Wellington every day. But the sun comes up, and clouds form — and, yes, the wind does blow. And it’s all miraculous. I might get used to it, but it’s not less special. The daily miracles of God are just that — miracles. And they are not confined to the phenomena of the skies. When I bend my elbow, it works. Childbirth happens. Life grows, love occurs, music moves my soul, people laugh.  These things are not less wondrous just because they are frequent. We often need new eyes just to notice the things that are always there. I remember a cartoon published at the end of 1999, when every event was being billed as the “last of the millennium” and every prophecy junkie was doubting whether God’s calendar would allow us another one, and people were going to Gisborne to see the first sunrise of the new millennium if indeed we were to be allowed one. The cartoon showed two dishevelled castaways on a desert island watching the sun coming up and one saying to the other, “My God, Wilson. We won’t see the like of that again for another 24 hours!”

    How did he know it would be 24 hours? That’s another miracle. All these seasonal events happen according to a schedule. It has its variations and its blips, but it has a pattern. And, because we are so accustomed to it, we forget to notice what a big deal it all, really, is.

    Take a deck chair some time — when the snow stops, or just put a scarf on — and go outside. Spend half an hour, without a newspaper or an iPod. Talk to no one, and let no one talk to you. And look. Just look, at the ground, at the sky, at the hedge. Have another look. Watch the grass grow, and hear the sounds. And then, very quietly and very slowly, and not too much of it, say something to God.

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