“We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.”
I have written a bit about beauty and how God woos us through his secondary causes. Today I want to write about wonder. The two go hand-in-hand. Wonder is something that children do quite naturally. The world is new, so every new, and even old, discovery leads the child to excitement, joy, and wonder. As adults we can have a tendency to look at a child’s wonder in apathy. We may scoff internally that it is only a rock, flower, worm, or tree. It is something that we have seen numerous times and so it bores us. Who has it right? I say the child.
In Fundamental Theology we learn that the theologian uses a variety of things to study God. It is described as three concentric circles. The outer layer is Everything. Yes, everything. Anything in the universe can provoke theological study, insight, and a greater understanding of God. Catholicism marries natural theology (that God can be known through reason in a limited capacity) and Revelation (what God has revealed about Himself through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition). The contemplation of a tree, for instance, can lead to a deeper understanding and love of God. The next circle is Sacred History (or Tradition). The Church has been around nearly 2000 years, so there is a deep pool (hence the name of my blog) of knowledge that can be used to grow in a deeper understanding of God. In the very center is Sacred Scripture. The Word of God to us. Throughout our lives we will travel between all three of the circles.
Theologians tend to have a natural capacity to wonder. In order to desire going deeper in knowledge of God there needs to be an element of awe and desire to know more; however, this capacity can be cultivated by all Christians with practice. The primary barrier to wonder is distraction. If we are too busy and lost in our thoughts or tasks all of the time then it is impossible to see the world around us. This is the same if we do not take the time to study our Faith and Sacred Scripture. We cannot wonder at God if we do not spend time with him.
Why do we need wonder? Wonder increases our capacity for joy. It connects us more deeply to God. That wonder should come quite naturally during the Mass at the consecration and when we ingest and gnaw (literal translation from Scripture) on Our Lord. The face that Christ left himself as food for us to unite to him body and soul on this side of the veil, should incite deep awe and wonder. It is very easy for these things to become robotic. That is why we have to form a habit of wonder. We will not always have warm fuzzy feelings. Emotions are unreliable and ever shifting. Our faith is rooted in the love and grace of the Blessed Trinity, not our moods. There are days we may “feel” little, but we can still wonder.
How do we cultivate this habit? I will admit that wonder comes pretty naturally to me. As I said in my post on beauty, it only takes a tiny flower or a pretty cloud to stop me most days. I think that the habit begins with gratitude and learning to pay attention. We have to look up from our iPhones and watch the things around us. We need to watch our children play and see how they wonder. My daughter can teach me more about wonder more than anyone else I know. So the first thing is: Look up.
The next step is to figure out what things make us wonder. In the beginning it will be difficult to wonder at things that seem mundane. The brilliant GK Chesterton was so adept at wondering that the tiniest thing brought him into a state of wonder. I want to live like that and while I am well on the way, I have a ways to go. What is it that makes you stop in awe? Is it some aspect of nature? Flowers, trees, grass, mountains, ocean, rivers, desert, snow, sunsets, stars, etc. The possibilities are vast. Figure out the things that incite wonder in you easily.
Once you figure these things out, start to pay attention. Intentionally seek them out while you are out doing your daily tasks. Perhaps take a lunch break, even if only 15 minutes, outside. Go for a quick walk. Stop by your parish and spend 10 minutes with Our Lord who is reposed in the Tabernacle. Even if you are stuck at your computer, try using a search engine to find beautiful pictures to wonder at. Some days I search out pictures related to the season and others I look for the beautiful cathedrals of Europe or the Holy Land.
Another way to instill wonder is to upset the apple cart, so to speak. Change your routine every now and then. Have dinner outside or at a park. My daughter and I have picnics on our living room floor during the winter.
Wonder also comes from gratitude. Foster a deep sense of gratitude. This is something that I am working on too. If we are thankful, then we are more likely to pay attention. When we are upset or ungrateful we tend to put our heads down and fold our arms. Try to think of things you are thankful for each day. It can be the simplest things, like your morning coffee and the steam rising, or eggs sizzling on the stove. It should be the obvious things like family and friends. You will find that when you pay attention to the little things you are thankful for, the more you will begin to wonder at those things that seemed mundane.
Today make an effort to wonder. Step outside, even if it is cold, and look for something to marvel at. I am an avid gardener, so each day I check the progress of my bulbs. The tulips are halfway up, the daffodils are set to bloom, and the crocuses will bloom any day now. I love watching God work.
Yesterday I made a concerted effort to take the day off from studies. I am 2.5 weeks from the end of this semester. I have two more papers due and then final exams. It is crunch time and I will spend long hours studying until Easter. It was 76 degrees here yesterday and glorious. I went with a friend to the park with our kids. My daughter found shells near the river and I discovered a mussel shell in the river. I had never seen one in a river before! I was excited and so was my daughter. When we got home I looked up a video of a live mussel for my daughter so she could see it move. She understood that the shell had been an animal. There aren’t words for her excitement!
After our park adventures we played outside until dark. My husband had to fix his truck, so my daughter and I played in the dirt. Then the most spectacular sunset happened. It started off a pink, blue, and purple and then it exploded into orange. We laid in the grass and watched the most beautiful peach wispy clouds float by. As dusk descended, two bats started flying overhead in search of food while squeaking at one another. My daughter had never seen a bat before, so we watched them for a bit. My husband was happy to see them because we have a vegetable garden and bats keep the bugs down.
I intentionally took much of yesterday off from my routine and studies in order to wonder alongside my daughter. In doing so, I was able to contemplate the deeper mysteries of God and enjoy being a mother. My daughter is not bored of dirt, sticks, and flowers. She sees them as amazing tools and fun. She is the one who stoops down to pick up a tiny purple flower to put in her hair. She is the one who pointed out to me that the tiny purple flowers blooming our grass had “disappeared” at sunset. I was able to explain to her that they close when the sun goes down and will open at sunrise. What an incredible working of nature! If we want to cultivate a deeper understanding and love of God, then we need to pay attention to his beauty and allow ourselves to wonder as children do. There is a reason Christ calls the little children to himself. The children are paying attention. Are we? I hope you are having a very blessed Lent.
**I hope sharing my wonder helps you. I am in a constant state of wonder through my studies and the world around me. God bless.
P.S. Not everything needs to be a picture. Put the phone down and just watch the beautiful sunset. :o)