December: Awaiting the Rebirth of Wonder
Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti wrote, “I am awaiting the rebirth of wonder.” We know wonder at the birth of a child, in outpourings of unselfish love in tragic times, and when old friends meet. In our daily round, however, we tend to forget how wonder-filled our lives are. Our noses are too near the grindstone to look out, our shoulders too hunched to the wheel to feel anything but the weight.
“The world is charged with the grandeur of God,” wrote an earlier poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins. Hopkins’ vision did not overlook the pain. He saw the pain abut he also knew that we could bind up some, if not all, of that pain when we approach the world in a spirit of wonder. Because he saw a world charged with the grandeur of God, he knew eternity in the midst of time, the limitless within the limited.
Hopkins discovered the extraordinary in the ordinary, and the boundless in the daily. The best place to look for universals is in particulars. We may declare in noble tones that we love humanity; the problem is that we cannot stand our next-door neighbor. To love the particular is difficult. But we are called to love this neighbor, or this child, or this spouse, not a universal idea. Wonder greets us in the ordinary, the daily, in this particular person who stands before us and confronts us in all her magnificent otherness.
St Irenaeus wrote in the second century that, “the glory of God is a person, fully revealed.” That old saint was onto truth. If there is a call to each and every one of us, it is to assist each other to become fully human. Humanity is not a given, it is a calling. We might even call it an achievement. We celebrate the triumph of wonder over cynicism, of joy over pessimism. So many wounded people in our sphere no longer live in wonder, including we ourselves, more often than not.
Irenaeus had it right: the glory of God is a fully revealed person. The Hebrew word for glory means weight, in the sense of deep importance or full presence or impressive dignity. With a gentle spirit, we invite others to reveal themselves more fully, to open up their weightiness in our presence. We in turn may reveal our full human weight in their presence. We become really present one to another. Just so is wonder reborn.
We may need to use discretion. My old friend psychiatrist and theologian Robert Moore told me, “You have to be careful to whom you show your gold, because the world is full of people who cannot see the wonder of another person any more. They will squash you.” Their supply of wonder is so depleted that they negate, rather than affirm, others. They have become toxic; they would rather poison the water than drink from it. They want to drag you down to their level rather than meet you on the one you occupy. You know who they are. Sadly, they may be in your family.
Wonder surrounds us. The word “God” may throw you, but you know at heart a sense of the sacredness of life, however fleeting it may be, as fleeting as the wind in autumn whispers the leaves past your face. We can touch that wonder even if we cannot hold it. Like the chickadee that lights on your hand to take seed on a winter day, so is the time of wonder. If you try to close your hand it will fly away.
Rejoice at the rebirth of wonder wherever you find it. Remember to give thanks.
published 03 December 2010