Wonder, Tradition & Awe

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- Jon Wise


When I was in college I moved from Atlanta to Boston. Being from the suburban south I may as well have been air dropped into a foreign country. But, always up for an adventure, I jumped right into urban life in New England. 

I found my local grocery store, ace hardware and the dozen or so Dunkin Donuts within a 2 min walk from my apartment. I discovered the Boston Commons, a fantastic garden in the middle of the city. I learned where the different T (subway) lines went. I watched the freaks dance in Cambridge Square. I had real clam chowder.

At the same time every night I would have dinner in my usual spot and read my Economist magazine. After dinner I would fold my magazine in half, put it in my back pocket and walk. I would walk to the waterfront. I would walk to the Old Harbor. I would walk past the brownstones on Beacon Street. I would walk across the Mass Ave Bridge and watch the Harvard crew teams skim across the Charles River. Every night I would walk and walk.


After a few weeks of my nightly walks, I started to notice little differences: the squeaky doors to the T station must have been oiled, the jovial homeless men on Boylston Street have a new friend, the practicing violinist that I can hear on the street is getting better at that Mozart piece. I had walked that walk enough times to know what to expect and to notice what was different. 

And then something started to change in me; instead of feeling like a stranger in a new city, I felt like I was home. I started to build a relationship with that space, in that time, with those people, sights and smells. 


I am beginning to realize that this same pattern is true with the traditions in my life. At first, when I take an evening walk through Christmas it’s about carols and cookies and gifts. Over time though, it becomes more. I start to notice little phrases like “a weary world rejoices” and what once had little significance becomes meaningful on a different level. I start to relate to it. I read the Christmas story and in turn, the Christmas story begins to read me.

Over time and with an open heart, the act of tradition moves from something you just do every year to something that is a part of who you are. But then, and this is what I love about spiritual traditions, it becomes a source of awe. It moves beyond meaningful and relatable and becomes a form of wonder and worship. 

Now family celebrations have a taste of the sacred. Reading my children the Christmas narrative moves some of the deepest places in my heart. Carols and cookies and gifts are infused with my response to the Hope of the world. 

This year, my prayer is that you move from rote rhythm into meaning and relationship; and may that relationship be the foundation upon which awe and worship are built; and may every heart make room singing...

Joy to the world, the Lord is come. 

Let earth receive her King!

Let every heart prepare Him room, 

and heaven and nature sing.


Jon Wise is a worship leader, worship mentor, creative director and media producer. He has been leading worship for over 15 years and has been on staff at three of the twenty largest churches in the country. Jon lives in the twin cities with wife Jen and their two sons. Read more from Jon on his blog.