“We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.”
Wonder is something that children do quite naturally. The world is new, so every new, and even old, discovery leads a 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 that they have seen. It is something that we have seen numerous times and so it bores us. It is tied to monotony. But, 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 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. It is in Scripture that God can be heard most clearly, most specifically in Jesus Christ. Throughout our lives we will travel between all three of the circles as we search for truth.
Theologians tend to have a natural capacity to wonder. In order to go deeper into the knowledge of God there needs to be an element of awe and wonder which creates a 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. We cannot know him if we do not spent time in prayer.
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 very fact that Christ left himself as food for us to be united 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. 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 than anyone else I know. So the first thing is to learn from the masters: children.
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 G.K. 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. Is it the way the sun glistens off of your child’s hair or the way your spouse smiles? Is it great stained glass or a gloriously adorned Tabernacle? The possibilities are vast. Figure out the things that incite wonder in you and then begin to focus on wonder in each moment when it comes to you.
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. G.K. Chesterton was known to have picnics in his home with his wife. Walk to work one day or cook a new meal for your family or yourself. Attend Eucharistic Adoration at a local parish. There is nothing like Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament to instill awe and wonder.
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 or eggs sizzling on the stove. It should be the obvious things like family, friends, and the Mass. 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 and look for something to marvel at. I am an avid gardener, so each day I check the progress of my flowers. The rose garden that I planted for my three miscarried babies is about to bloom for the first time this spring. It gives me a sense of peace and wonder watching the roses open while reminding me of my babies. I love watching God work.
By focusing on the beauty and wonder around us, we are able to contemplate the deeper mysteries of God. My daughter is not bored of dirt, sticks, and flowers. She sees them as amazing tools and fun. God is not bored of his creation. His creation is good and an endless array of light, order, and beauty. 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. God speaks to us in his creation. He tells us that he is beauty itself. He uses his creation to woo us into a deeper love for him. We must be willing to get outside of ourselves and pay attention, just as a child does in each moment. There is a reason Christ calls the little children to himself. Children are paying attention to his glory and wonder. Are we?