"All the people were astonished..."
It is a rarity, this kind of emotion doesn't happen often. I suppose I've dumbed it down so much that it's kind of like the word 'awesome.' We use the word too flippantly so that when the truly 'awesome' thing occurs we're not as taken by it. Astonished, I think is the same.
The other morning I ran across this word in a reading of Matthew 12:22- 32. It was embedded in the second verse of the reading. The word seemed to pop right off the page. It was that spontaneous moment in which I was given this little tiny gift of a single word, within the context of a paragraph, but the word itself became the whole deal.
The people were astonished because of what Jesus had just done. Astonishment is a very vulnerable experience, that's why it doesn't happen too often. To experience astonishment means you're not in control of your emotions as they respond to an event. Astonishment is an eruption. It comes from someplace deep within us. It either brings up with it a sense of wonder, awe, we might even say worship; but it is a conscious recognition of something beyond us and beyond our control. Or it brings up with it fear, anxiety, fury, or anger; again an eruption of emotion we were not expecting and thus uncontrollable.
Astonishment is so rare because we love to be in control or ourselves. My fight for what I think is survival depends on my sense of being in control of what goes on around me, at least as much as I am able. So I make my plans, chart my day, make appointments, instinctively think through my routes, make budgets, long range forecasts, goals; all of which are intended to give me a sense of control over my life. I think these things are mature aspects of being human and in themselves gifts from God.
As with most good gifts from God it is all too easy for me to turn the gift into a god with the power to dictate my life. I create an expectation of life's ways and means based on these new gods. My heart begins to crust over and harden. My eyes begin to go blind to see only those things that fit into my little myopic vision of reality.
Of course none of this throws God off of his plan. He is very aware that I follow the same pattern every other human being follows (read 'you' here). It is out of his love for me, a love that chases after me, that is buried deep within me because of the primal blessing, that he does something which forces the seismic shift deep within to erupt truth. It will either be a truth that so knocks me back such that I can't see or understand it all and I'm left with wonder, or, and this is more usually the case, the truth is so ugly as I see the true motives of my life. Of course the outcome is intended to be the same either way.
One of the more sobering ancient definitions of the word astonishment is insane. I roll along in life thinking I'm sane, then some Kingdom break-in occurs, the eruption deep within me blows up and I find that this new truth, this true truth, seems to be insane! Kind of gives me pause to reflect on what sanity is and how much of my life do I think I'm the sane one only to realize I'm insane and that what I think is insane is really sanity. See what I mean? If you just read that and understand what I mean then you're insane too!
Astonishment is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, plain and simple. But that fruit won't be born without a soil of vulnerability. Whether it produces awe and wonder or whether it produces the raw reality of what is buried deep within, the bottom line I think is that astonishment is a sign I am being transformed, and that's what I desire.