John Jacob Niles was mesmerized by the melody and lyrics he heard sung out by the poor daughter of a traveling evangelist. Niles was in Appalachia in 1933 when Annie Morgan sang fragments of a song: “I wonder as I wander, out under the sky, how Jesus the Savior did come for to die …” Niles went on to formalize the song, penning additional lyrics for the carol now beloved by many.
It’s an unusual song, compelling in its simplicity and musicality. Unlike many carols that ring with joviality, it is set in a minor key and its final note rings out unresolved—a fitting tone for lyrics that speak of wandering and wondering rather than firm answers and clear resolution. In its own unique way, this mournful song captures something beautiful about the Christian life. It brings to mind those early wanderers and wonderers—the shepherds and Magi who traveled to and from the child Jesus, marveling over what they’d witnessed. And it resonates with the spiritual journeys of Christians today as we experience our own wandering and wondering.
This issue of CT features several such stories. Sida Lei grippingly describes wandering through the rainforest in Cambodia trying to escape the Khmer Rouge. Lei didn’t know of Jesus, but she cried out to God for help. “I began to wonder,” she writes, “Was there actually someone out there watching over me and answering my prayers?”
Rachel Booth Smith grapples with a haunting question asked by her cancer-stricken daughter on their way home from a chemo treatment: “Is it a sin to feel restless?” Smith offers the fruit of long contemplation on this question, exploring what it can look like to trust in God amid trouble.
Our cover story profiles Bono of U2 as he discusses his new memoir Surrender with CT. “Bono identifies himself as a pilgrim, not a sage—someone still on the search,” Mike Cosper writes. Bono’s story highlights not just the questioning aspect of wonder but also the worshipful sense of the word: wonder as in astonishment or awe. Bono famously sings, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” in a song about faith, but he also performs portions of Psalm 40 set to music (“40” from the album War). In his interview, Bono discusses parts of his own spiritual journey, from being invited to church by his friend Guggi to the trauma of his mother’s death to his ongoing sense of deep commitment to Jesus.
We can bring both our wandering and our wondering to the manger. There we worship the one who came “for to die,” as the carol says—but even more so, Fred Sanders reminds us, we enter into “the secret of the strange hush of the season” as we adore Jesus for who he is.
Kelli B. Trujillo is print managing editor of Christianity Today.
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