When I lead classes and presentations on mystery, awe and wonder, I regularly use these activities:
Grab a picture that grabs you – Before the class, I spread out pictures of a variety of inspiring nature scenes – mountains, waterfalls, the ocean, auroras, flowers, etc. ( Calendars can be a great source of these pictures.) As people enter, I invite them to “grab a picture that grabs you.” People usually select a picture that reminds them of an experience they have had. Later in the class, I ask people to choose someone other than a family member or close friend and share why they chose that picture. As people remember and share those moments in their lives that inspired awe and wonder, those moments come alive for them and for the person they share with.
.HONEY I SHRUNK THE SOLAR SYSTEM – i have developed an easily duplicated scale model of the Solar System which helps people experience the truly amazing scale of the Solar System (and the distance to the nearest star) in a fun and memorial way. You can find it all HERE
Objects to inspire awe and wonder – Over the years I have collected meteorites, fossils, minerals and crystals (bismuth crystals are especially remarkable) and other objects which I pass around and describe. Talk some about how science helps us better appreciate such fascinating objects. I serve on the Steering Committee of the Lutheran Alliance for Faith Science and Technology (Please visit our website at www.luthscitech.org). We sponsor booths at the ELCA National Youth Gatherings. Whenever things got slow, I would stand by the entrance of our booth holding a baseball size meteorite and ask “Would you like to hold a piece of another world?” Even though youth were often anxious to get to other booths and activities almost all would stop for at least a minute. Who would pass up a chance ot hold a piece of another world?
Experiencing Nature – I am an amateur astronomer and have several telescopes. Whenever possible I try to give people a chance to observe the Moon, planets, nebulae, star clusters and galaxies. Of course, not everyone has telescopes, and even if you do, the weather doesn’t always allow astronomical observing. Still, often there would be opportunities for people to get outside and take time to see, hear and touch wonders of nature.
Riddles – I think it is very important for people to understand that mystery is not a puzzle or problem to be solved. With mystery, the more you know and understand it, the more you realize that there is always more that you don’t know or understand. To make this clear, I often contrast mystery with riddles. With a riddle, once you know the solution, there is nothing more to it, the only thing left is to tell it to someone else. There are lots of riddles you can share to make this point. One i often use is to show a slide, or sheet with the sequence of letters O T T F F S S E and then ask people what is the next letter and the ones after it. This riddle can be quite puzzling, until you make the connection i these are the first letters of the positive integers – One, Two, Three, etc.
Gifts of Wonder – Sometimes i ask people if they have ever received a gift which inspired wonder for them. It could be a telescope, microscope or all sorts of things. Then I share this quote from Sam Keen, Apology for Wonder, p.211 – When I was six years old I was walking by a courthouse in a small town in Tennessee. A man came out, followed by a large crowd. As he walked past me, he pulled a knife from his belt and said, “I present you with this knife.” Before I could see his face or overcome my shock and thank him, he turned and disappeared. The knife was a strange and mysterious gift. The handle was made out of the foot of a deer, and on the blade there was something written in a foreign language which no one in town could translate. For weeks after this event I lived with a pervasive sense of gratitude to the stranger and with a wondering expectancy created by the realization that such a strange and wonderful happening could occur in the ordinary world of Maryville. If nameless strangers gave such gifts, what surprises might be expected in the world?