My favorite prayer these days is “Wow!” Sometimes I actually utter the word. But mostly I realize that I’ve prayed a wow-prayer in retrospect. Something has stopped me in my tracks. Taken my breath away.
The sunset over Lake Kincaid.
A mother fox with her kits peeking curiously through the underbrush.
A bald eagle wheeling over my back yard.
Wow! As Anne Lamott puts it, “It’s about having [my] mind blown by the mesmerizing or the miraculous.” (Help, Thanks, Wow, p. 70)
Sometimes I say, “God, you do amazing work.”
Predictably enough, looking at myself in the mirror has never taken my breath away. If I’ve ever said, “Wow!” about my reflection, it was something like this: “Wow, I need a haircut.” Or, “Wow, when did I get those bags under my eyes?”
Never once have I gazed at myself in the mirror and said, “God, you do amazing work.” I look, instead, at what I’ve done. I’ve stayed in reasonable physical shape or skipped the gym for a week. I’ve put on a couple of pounds or lost a few hairs.
Moving beyond what meets the eye, I see the mistakes I’ve made, the work left undone, the regrets that dog me.
Oh, sure, sometimes I’m feeling good about this, that, or the other completed project or rigorous workout or accomplished goal, but that’s not breathtaking stuff. Those are judgments on the positive side of the ledger. And judgment never gives rise to “wow.” Judgment leads to approval or disapproval. Acceptance or rejection.
“Wow” is sheer delight. It’s wonder that such a thing could even be. There must exist a love beyond my wildest imaginings to have thought up, much less to have given to the universe, such an extravagant gift as this. Wow!
Looking in the mirror and saying “Wow!” might strike you as the height of vanity. But actually I think that vanity isn’t really about “wow.” Vanity is just another form of judgment, not wonder.
It’s more like, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all.” A desperate need to be superior to others and to be admired. Even if you have to bump off your competition.
What has gradually dawned on me is that I’ve forgotten who I really am. And I frequently forget who other people really are. We are made by God in the image of God. Love itself has made us to give and to receive love. That should be the stuff of “Wow!”
And I don’t think that I’m the only one who forgets who I really am. Who we humans really are. I think it’s a condition afflicting much if not all of the human family.
That’s why we fear strangers, go to war with each, and allow each other to go homeless and hungry. We’ve forgotten who we are.
Sex trafficking, economic exploitation, racism, and sexism are all symptoms of the same phenomenon. We’ve forgotten who we are.
Human beings are the image of God. When we love, we are our true selves.
The changes and the chances, the bruises, the cruelties, and the stupidities of this world have obscured our true selves from us and distorted our view of who others truly are. God formed each of us, and everyone we encounter, as the image of God.
Jesus came to help us remember. To remember our true selves. To recover our identity from even the darkest depths of forgetfulness. That is what we see in Luke’s account of what we now call the Transfiguration.
Peter, James, and John ascended a mountain with Jesus. While Jesus was praying, “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.” (Luke 9:29)
The sight took the disciples’ breath away. In that moment, Jesus gave Peter, James, and John a glimpse of his true self and their true selves. Jesus is the perfect image of God. Love in the flesh.
Love is not merely a feeling we may have or even an act of kindness we may render. Love is never an achievement by which we are judged. Love is the nature bestowed upon us by the Holy One.
Love brought us into existence. Before our first breath, we are already the beloved. And when we love we become our true selves.
And so, whether we’re looking in a mirror or gazing into the eyes of a stranger, there is reason to say, “Wow!” Not because of something we possess or something we have achieved. But because we finally remember who we are.