Janis Nuckolls, professor of linguistics, delivered Tuesday’s devotional address. She spoke about the importance of cultivating more awe and wonder, which can lead to a more meaningful life.
Nuckolls is an anthropological linguist, which means she studies the way languages and cultures are connected. Throughout her career, she has worked with many different kinds of people living in remote places, including a small village called Puka Yaku in Ecuador, where she studied the native language of Kichwa.
The people of Puka Yaku live a difficult lifestyle yet maintain a positive attitude, which taught Nuckolls that no matter the circumstance, it is possible to find joy and wonder in one's surroundings.
“Although the people of Puka Yaku live within a culture that hasn’t benefited from formal education or literacy, they have inspired me with their abilities to read the landscapes of God’s created world. Their careful attention to and enjoyment of the awe-inspiring wonders surrounding them have refreshed my spirit over and over again.”
Relating this to the account of the Savior visiting the Americas in 3 Nephi 16:6–7, Nuckolls told of the awe that the people felt as they heard Jesus Christ pray for them.
“Although these passages seem to be mostly about the greatness and the marvelous qualities of Jesus’s prayer, I think they are also emphasizing the unfathomability of trying to capture how the people were affected by it. In other words, these passages emphasize their feelings of awe, reverence and wonder at hearing His words.”
Nuckolls shared examples of other individuals who lived in remote places and were able to find wonder in any situation, including those who were incarcerated in the Utah State Prison.
Nuckolls was drawn to studying those in prison, who even before the COVID-19 pandemic were restricted and had been living without many of the freedoms we so often take for granted.
“How, I wondered, do they cope? How do they make their lives meaningful and satisfying under such difficult conditions?”
One day while Nuckolls was working at the prison, she saw a woman who went out of her way to rescue a baby goose that had been caught in razor wire surrounding the yard. The woman was initially told by a guard that she could not help, but she persisted until she was allowed to free the goose.
Nuckolls was filled with her own sense of wonder watching this event play out, as it showed her that this inmate was still able to maintain her compassion and empathy, even in a setting such as prison.
The experience of working with those who have been able to find so much wonder, despite living simple and often restricted lives, reminded Nuckolls of the importance of cultivating more feelings of wonder towards the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have unlimited access to wisdom, truth and blessings from our scriptures, our ordinances and our covenants. Perhaps we should add at least a daily dose of wonder to our spiritual practices.”
Intentionally going out of our way to have experiences that help us feel wonder in the gospel of Jesus Christ and in our surroundings also has great health benefits, Nuckolls said.
“Such experiences can also lessen stress, reduce the kind of self-critical thinking which leads to depression, and inspire greater humility, greater generosity and more tolerance for uncertainty.”
Maintaining a sense of awe and wonder can be contagious, and Nuckolls encouraged us to go out of our way to share ours with those around us.
“I have tried to communicate my own excitement for this gospel by pointing out the importance of wonder but also by expressing the wonder I feel when I realize that no matter how remote the circumstances, the values we share can be found, whether we call it ‘taking care of, ‘looking out for,' ‘nurturing’ or ‘ministering’ to others.”