In the closing minutes of Job’s argument with God, he admits “I did not understand things too wonderful for me to know” (42:3) When the psalmist considers the mysteries of his own body he says, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me” (139:6) How stunned would they be if today’s technology had been available to them?
The dictionary defines wonder as ‘a mixture of surprise, awe, amazement, excitement about something strange’. With our innate desire to know, to understand and then gain control of things previously unknown or strange, we often lose something precious – the sense of wonder which first excited us. Wonder is an antidote to boredom and depression – a condition affecting so many today.
In a world of Covid menace, political tumult, climate catastrophes, war, terrorism, moral degeneration, ecological disasters, precarious living we need to retain a sense of wonder, Einstein knew this and warned, ‘The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mystical. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead’.
We may wonder at the range, complexity, convenience, speed and dazzling splendour of modern technology delivering results, visuals, and information into our hand, or before our eyes, in an instant. We may bow in awe before the scientific advances in medicine and the precision and delicacy of surgical procedures moving beyond frontiers that were previously terminal. But we should remember the energy behind these advances depends on a combination of human skill and natural law.
We may stand in awe at the conclusion of a breathtaking vocal, instrumental or orchestral musical performance and marvel at the skill of both composer and performer. Lost in wonder we may gaze at the magnificence of the Sistine Chapel, or the immensity and beauty of the Pieta, or a masterpiece on canvas or paper. But remember they are the result of a combination of human skill, natural materials and ‘divine’ inspiration.
Our sense of wonder can be stimulated by natural phenomena entirely independent of all human effort. Look at the sky morning, afternoon, evening or night. Yes, the natural forces can go viral with catastrophic, devastating destruction and loss of life, but the same forces, though their balance is fragile, can also be stunningly beautiful. In her fascinating book “The Luminous Web”, an essay on science and religion, Barbara Taylor Brown writes, ‘….what I see is an infinite web of relationship, flung across the vastness of space like a luminous net. It is made of energy not thread….I see light moving through it like a pulse moves through veins….there is a small commotion moves in my bones, as the ashes of dead stars that house my marrow rise up like metal filings toward the magnet of their living kin….God is up there, down here, inside my skin and out. God is the web, the space, the energy, the light….God is the unity, – the very energy, the very intelligence, the very elegance and passion that make it all go’. Another popular author, Anne Lamott writes, ’Wonder takes our breath away, and makes room for more breath’, and adds, ‘Astonishing material and revelation appear in our lives all the time’. We have to notice it.
If you get neck ache looking up, then look around. Take a seed, plant it, watch it sprout and grow becoming a thing of beauty and fragrance. Watch a bird in flight (it was once an egg), or a butterfly on wing (it was once a caterpillar), or a bee gathering pollen (it was once a grub), creatures of beauty. All free!
If you can’t get outside have a look in the mirror. Yes, you, this moment you are alive! Take a deep breath, and another! That’s God’s life gift. He made you. He loves you. You are unique. There will never be another you. God broke the mold when you were born. The scientist, Neil deGrasse Tyson writes, ‘There are as many atoms in a simple molecule of your DNA as there are stars in the typical galaxy. We are, each of us, a little universe’. Look in the mirror again. You may be small compared to the sun and large compared to the ant, but you are you, a living wonder! Wake up and thank God for his gift of life. Life is full of wonder and the greatest wonder is God wants a loving relationship with you.