Editor's note: Surprise takes thousands of forms. Some we welcome; others we may wish never came our way. In spite of — or perhaps because of — these dual aspects, surprise seems to many wise people like the very nature of life. Benedictine author Br. David Steindl-Rast goes so far as to say that "Surprise" is God's name. This collection of quotes helps us understand that taken rightly, any surprise can be considered a doorway into spiritual growth, wonder, and gratefulness.
An Abundance of Stories
"There are so many blessings for the things we normally take for granted, so that they, too, become a source of joy. There are blessings for waking up in the morning, standing up straight and for walking. There's one for seeing a crowd of people — 'Oh, my God, look at how many stories there are!' Awe, wonder, and surprise are all deeply pleasurable."
— Irwin Kula in Yearnings
"People who travel on pilgrimages report how the insights of the journey are always far afield of expectations. Things come upon the pilgrim in surprising ways. But there is a universal requirement: a person desiring transformation must get out onto the road and into new environments. The encrusted ways of habit have to be broken, and this alters a person's chemistry."
— Shaun McNiff in Earth Angels
An Astonishing Wellspring
To be joyful in the universe is a brave and reckless act. The courage for joy springs not from the certainty of experience, but the surprise. Our astonishment at being loved, our bold willingness to love in return — these wonders promise the possibility of joyfulness, no matter how often and how harshly love seems to be lost. Therefore, despite the world's sorrows, we give thanks for our loves, for our joys and for the continued courage to be happily surprised.
— Molly Fumia in A Grateful Heart by M.J. Ryan, editor
A Double-Edged Sword
"Surprise is a double-edged sword, dipped in delight on one side and disappointment on the other."
— Tania Luna and Leeann Renninger in Surprise
Each Day's Newness
"Each day holds a surprise. But only if we expect it can we see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us. Let's not be afraid to receive each day's surprise, whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy. It will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can welcome friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity."
— Henri J.M. Nouwen in The Dance of Life
A Filling of the Soul
"Everything that is new or uncommon raises a pleasure in the imagination, because it fills the soul with an agreeable surprise, gratifies its curiosity, and gives it an idea of which it was not before possessed."
--- Joseph Addison in Frederic Brussat's Twitter Collection
God's Way of Saying Hello
"Surprise is God's way of saying 'hello.' The response is optional."
— Joan Chittister in Gospel Days
The House of Discovery
"The child lives in the neighbourhood of wonder where innocence keeps mystery playful. Each new event and encounter is all-absorbing. No overall perspective on life is available. The child lives in the house of discovery."
— John O'donohue in Eternal Echoes
How We Evolve
"Sometimes things have a way of moving in on us. They appear in various ways, and it's not always clear to us what their motivations or goals might be. Whether it's a mouse, a string of insects, or a visit from the building inspector, we will always find times in our lives when we are face-to-face with the unannounced and unexpected visitor. How we deal with these surprises can show us a new side of ourselves and can also be a factor in determining how we evolve into the people we become."
— Gary Thorp in Sweeping Changes
"What is the meaning of life? . . . The great revelation . . . never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark.
— Virginia Woolf in Rodney Smith's Lessons from the Dying
A New Tryst
"There are two kinds of people. One kind you can just tell by looking at them at what point they congealed into their final selves. It might be a very nice self, but you know you can expect no more surprises from it. The other kind keep moving forward and making new trysts with life, and the motion of it keeps them young. In my opinion, they are the only people who are still alive. You must be constantly on your guard against congealing."
— Gail Godwin in R. Wayne Willis's Hope Notes
The Starting Point
"Surprise is the starting point. Through surprise our inner eyes are opened to the amazing fact that everything is gratuitous. . . . In the end, gratefulness will be our full aliveness to a gratuitously given world.
— David Steindl-Rast in Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer
Terrifying Yet Delicious
Descent into mystery is a late form of the plunge into night. Mystery is what we don't know, what doesn't fit, what we have not made into shape and order; it tells us that surprise is at the core of life, terrifying but also delicious.
— John Tarrant in The Light Inside the Dark
A Time That Is Vanishing
"I love the word pause. . . . Such a time represents a kind of time that is vanishing: a floating time, completely free of usefulness, suspended between wakefulness and sleep. This is the time zone of wonder, when we fall out of the habitual, the taken-for-granted, and are startled by what is.
— Noelle Oxenhandler in Donna Schaper's Sabbath Keeping
A Tumbling of Grace
"I learned that the opposite of depression is not happiness, but delight. Grace fuels delight. Grace is that which tumbles into our lives, and we are spontaneously surprised by the goodness and beauty of living."
— Terry Hershey in Sacred Necessities
"Our brightest blazes of gladness are commonly kindled by unexpected sparks."
— Samuel Johnson in Tania Luna and Leeann Renninger's Surprise
A Wake Up Call
"The trouble is, we cannot banish ugly surprises without banishing lovely ones as well. The unexpected may annoy us, but may also wake us up. If you seal your windows against the odor of skunks and the shriek of sirens, you will also miss the lilacs and finches, the yeasty breath of bakeries and the playground squeal of children."
— Scott Russell Sanders in Writing from the Center
Lord, you are like a wildflower. You spring up in places where we least expect you. The bright color of your grace dazzles us. Far from trying to possess you, you may possess us.
— Henry Suso in Micah Marty's When True Simplicity Is Gained