A Joy in Discovery

wonder

My daughter had her first taste of ice cream on a cold, stormy November evening. That is to say, last night. It was her reward, in a sense, for surviving a year in this world — three hundred sixty-five days in our household and you get to taste that sweet homemade vanilla nectar. Mom’s rules.

So there she was, tucked into her lime-green Bumbo chair, face glistening from the buttered bread she’d smeared on her cheeks for whatever reason, tasting ice cream for the first time.

Her initial reaction was against the shock of cold. Her expressive face twisted up in discomfort, but only for a moment. Then her spoon was probing the bowl for more. By bedtime, she had experienced her first scoop of ice cream, and she was a fan.

One of many reasons to go on having kids if you’re able and the wife is willing is that each one brings new insights, not to mention personality and color of their own. In my experience, the infancy of the firstborn is a whirlwind; you’re caught up in the simple fact of being a parent and you miss a lot. This becomes evident with Child Two, by whose turn the novelty of parenthood has given way to plain old fatigue, but also a comfort with your role that allows you to see what you missed the first time.

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One of those subtleties has been the way Amelia is discovering her world and herself. Even on her first birthday, after a year of daily revelations, there was plenty to catch her up in the wonder of firsts: ice cream, of course, but also the rain thrumming down from the eaves. Her dimpled hand went into that stream palm-down for whatever reason and stayed there until she had memorized the rhythm and the temperature of it.

Earlier in the year was her first taste of sand. Her first literal taste of it. Plopped down beside the beach blanket, she realized within about thirty seconds that the silky carpet here was something new. I watched as her feet swept back and forth through the sand, then as her fingers scooped and sifted it, and then as her mouth opened on her way down for a nip of the stuff — just in case.

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But my favorite scene from the first year came round about September, when Amelia was trying valiantly to walk. One late night, wound up for whatever reason, she started cruising from coffee table to love seat to sofa, a ten-foot triangle across the front room while Dorinda and I observed silently. She kept at it for several minutes, table to love seat to sofa, and some time around the third lap, I realized what she was doing.

Not practicing. Exulting.

It means to feel elation at some achievement or success, and it is what you may have felt upon realizing that God has broken a sinful habit that once troubled you, or when His promises of heaven became meaningful to you for the first time.

Amelia was exulting in her new-found ability, and her way of celebrating was to exercise it, over and over and over. This was a baby fully participating in the joy of discovery, of muscles and tendons and equilibrium in harmony.

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” David sang to the Father. I hear the psalm in the adult voice of King David, of course. But now I also see it written on the furrowed brow of my baby girl in a moment of revelation. “Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”

In the life of a believer, the urge to discover draws us into the heart of the Father. As we marvel at what we find there, we are like children at the beach for the first time, feeling sand through our fingers and smelling the salt air. “There lives the dearest freshness deep down things,” goes one of the lines in Gerard Manley Hopkins’ sonnet “God’s Grandeur.” When was the last time you put your natural curiosity to work in praise? Does it matter to you that God wants to be perceived and experienced, rather than worshiped from a vague distance?

The Father created us to investigate, to revel and exult in Him. Pay attention and you’ll find that the most joyful believers embrace and exercise this impulse often.

King David knew how.

“You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek.'”

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“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.”
{Psalms 139:13-18}
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
{Gerard Manley Hopkins, “God’s Grandeur”}