Ragamuffin Gospel: #5 – Cormorants and Kittiwakes

Chapter 5

Awe and Wonder

As Manning begins this chapter, he explains how science has squelched our awe and wonder of creation to the point that we have “become immune to the glory of creation.” So true for many, but I love it when we read about research scientists that dedicate their lives to their fields and come to the conclusion that there must be a divine creator. They see order in the minute details that even electronic scanning microscopes can’t show. For many, the more they study and understand their science, the more the stand in awe of the One who created it all.

The title for this chapter deceived me. Friends of ours in Jamestown regard the Cormorant1 as an invasive, ugly, useless bird that merely leaves a path of destruction in its wake. As I read the first few paragraphs, I was expecting a terse comparison of those who miss the splendor of the world to that of the Cormorant, the ugly bird that depletes the local supply of fish for everyone! Instead it seems that Manning is captivated by nature and these are just a few that caught his eye, “…gulls and gannets, puffins, cormorants and kittiwakes.” I suppose this is a lesson in keeping an open mind and not jumping to conclusions!

God wants us to explore our world, to be amazed by His creation. To one the cormorant is a nuisance, to another a wonder of creation.  To some, there is no use for religion because scientific endeavors seem to have an explanation for everything while others see the beauty in the creative hands that made every living thing.

This is why the arts are so important, why music still pierces the hearts of the most successful (as defined by society), the greatest and the smallest. Movies attract us because we want to be transported to a different reality, to be shocked and awed by special effects. Spoken Word performances evoke emotion that defies science and forces us to look beyond mathematical explanations. Music plays in our heads long after the song has ended. Why? Because we are spiritual beings, not just some combination of atoms!

The spirituality of wonder knows the world is charged with grace, that while sin and war, disease and death are terribly real, God’s loving presence and power in our midst are even more real. p.99

When we take time to reflect on that which surrounds us we see beauty beyond explanation. To see someone smile from deep within or laugh uncontrollably defies scientific explanation. How can a melody cause me to cry like a baby? Why do I play the same song over and over again? It’s weird, but not really that strange. Okay, some are stranger than others, but seriously there is no satisfactory scientific explanation.

As I read this chapter I hear words from the great Psalm of David:

Restore to me the joy of your salvation. Psalm 51

One of my favorite psalms penned by David from one of his lowest moments on earth. Here he repents and pleads with God to restore joy, the joy of God’s salvation, not the wonder of his own hands. Move us to real authentic joy.

Our society has taught us that constantly want the newest version, the next best thing. In essence this suggests that what we have isn’t good enough. Such thinking has created so many problems, but the one that relates to this chapter is the loss of our sincere appreciation for that which is around us. We’re so busy looking for the new model we don’t enjoy what we have…as if that was important at all!

Our relationship with Christ is something to be in awe about! Our society applauds the skeptic, but does little to recognize those who actually study and see God’s hand in the middle of everything we do…that takes too much time and effort. We’re part of a 15-second sound-bite world that doesn’t have the patience to read and seek to understand. Help me Lord to move beyond this, to invest the time to learn.

I do not ask to see the reason for it all; I ask only to share the wonder of it all.p. 105

From the Chapter

  • By and large, our world has lost its sense of wonder.
  • God is being edged out of His world by science.
  • As civilization advances, the sense of wonder declines
  • We become immune to the glory of creation.
  • We avoid the cold and the heat. We refrigerate ourselves in summer and entomb ourselves in plastic in winter.
  • We miss the experience of awe, reverence, and wonder.
  • So often we religious people walk amid the beauty and bounty of nature and we talk nonstop. We must rediscover the gospel of grace and the world of grace.
  • Fiorello LaGuardia story about the women who stole a loaf of bread.
  • Our gracious God speaks to us in [The Moviegoer] and issues a call “to choose between generativity and stagnation, between continuing to have an impact, or sitting around waiting to die…”
  • Erma Bombeck: I would seize every minute, look at it and really see it, live it, and never give it back.
  • We are either living a little more or dying a little bit (Norman Mailer)
  • The spirituality of wonder knows the world is charged with grace, that while sin and ware, disease and death are terribly real, God’s loving presence and power in our midst are even more real.
  • The gospel of grace is brutally devalued when Christians maintain that the transcendent God can only be properly honored and respected by denying the goodness and the truth and the beauty of the things of this world.
  • The Jews related to a covenant God who had initiated the contract.
  • Human love, with all its passion and emotion, is a thin echo of the passion/emotion love of Yahweh.
  • Yahweh does not conform to the human-logic model
  • Unjust? To our way of thinking, yes. Thank God! I am wonderfully content with a God who doesn’t deal with me as my sins deserve.
  • We should be astonished at the goodness of God, stunned that He should bother to call us by name, our mouths wide open at His love, bewildered that at this very moment we are standing on holy ground.
  • Surprise me, amaze me, awe me in every crevice of Your universe.
  • Joshua Abraham Heschel: “I do not ask to see the reason for it all; I ask only to share the wonder of it all.”

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1 Cormorant. The gangly Double-crested Cormorant is a prehistoric-looking, matte-black fishing bird with yellow-orange facial skin. Though they look like a combination of a goose and a loon, they are relatives of frigatebirds and boobies and are a common sight around fresh and salt water across North America—perhaps attracting the most attention when they stand on docks, rocky islands, and channel markers, their wings spread out to dry. These solid, heavy-boned birds are experts at diving to catch small fish. Cormorants are voracious, and the term “cormorant” has been applied to gluttonous, miserly, or avaricious persons. Cormorants are ridiculed because of their awkward movements on land, their harsh croaks, and their obnoxious method of feeding their young.

2 Kittiwake. A small, cliff-nesting gull, the Black-legged Kittiwake breeds along northern coasts and winters out at sea.

3 ignominy. A situation or event that causes you to feel ashamed or embarrassed; deep personal humiliation and disgrace; disgraceful or dishonorable conduct, quality, or action.

4 Fiorello H. La Guardia. http://www.britannica.com/biography/Fiorello-H-La-Guardia

5 The Moviegoer. The Moviegoer is Binx Bolling, a young New Orleans stockbroker who surveys the world with the detached gaze of a Bourbon Street dandy even as he yearns for a spiritual redemption he cannot bring himself to believe in. On the eve of his thirtieth birthday, he occupies himself dallying with his secretaries and going to movies, which provide him with the “treasurable moments” absent from his real life. But one fateful Mardi Gras, Binx embarks on a hare-brained quest that outrages his family, endangers his fragile cousin Kate, and sends him reeling through the chaos of New Orleans’ French Quarter. Wry and wrenching, rich in irony and romance, The Moviegoer is a genuine American classic.

5 metanoia. Change in one’s way of life resulting from penitence or spiritual conversion.

6 hesed. In the Old Testament, hesed is a central theological term. It is a key attribute in the Lord’s self-description in Exodus 34:6-7, as well as an obligation that is placed on all of His people in Micah 6:8. Normally, hesed describes something that happens within an existing relationship, whether between two human beings or between God and man. In human relationships, hesed implies loving our neighbor, not merely in terms of warm emotional feelings but in acts of love and service that we owe to the other person simply because he is part of the covenant community. God’s people are to do justly, to love hesed, and to walk humbly with their God.



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