There are four things that are too mysterious for me to understand:
an eagle flying in the sky,
a snake moving on a rock,
a ship finding its way over the sea,
and a man and a woman falling in love.
Proverbs 30.18–19 (GNB)
Here’s the thing: in an era when there can seem to be a deficit of wonder, swifts are like the sky: once you start, you can’t stop wondering about them. Frustratingly, though, their elusiveness and pace mean you rarely get more than a glimpse of what they are up to in a town. The edge-land, however, reveals a wider perspective… — Rob Cowen, Common Ground, Kindle ed’n, p.208
Our daughter lives in Chile, and so (of course!) does her daughter, our granddaughter Emilia. Emilia is nearly three. They visited us a while ago, and it was just a delight to witness Emilia’s joy and wonder at everything she encountered.
Frankly, I don’t miss a lot about being a child. But if there’s one thing I miss it is finding wonder in learning new things, in animals in all their weird shapes and forms, in the expanse of space, in everything really.
I suppose it’s pretty normal not to experience so much wonder as you get older. You have to pay the bills, cook the meals, get to work. You realise that the world is a pretty messed-up place. You worry about the future.
But then you see a newborn baby, or look up at the night sky away from the city lights, and that feeling of wonder is right back there again.
It may be normal for that sense of wonder to fade as you get older; but it may be fading away more in our time in history. Today, some people are experiencing a ‘deficit of wonder’.
A deficit of wonder. I have seen that phrase twice in the last week, yet I’d never seen it before in my entire life.
A deficit of wonder. I read it in a British nature book (Common Ground, by Rob Cowen) set in the local area where I was born. I read it also in a quotation from Tom Waits, the gravel-voiced blues singer whose work some of you will know.
Tom Waits says
Everything is explained now. We live in an age when you say casually to somebody ‘What’s the story on that?’ and they can run to the computer and tell you within five seconds. That’s fine, but sometimes I’d just as soon continue wondering. We have a deficit of wonder right now.
‘Sometimes I’d just as soon continue wondering.’
We do have so much at the touch of a virtual button these days. When my kids were younger and they asked me a question, I’d tell them to look it up on Wikipedia so they could learn for themselves. But what do we get from all our internet searching? We get data, which we can organise into information, which we may be able to make into knowledge. Which is a good thing.
What we don’t get is wisdom. Wisdom helps us to discern what we should value, and how we should act. Wisdom shows us
whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable… (Philippians 4.8)
All the internet searches in the world won’t bring us wisdom. If we only rely on the internet, we shall have a deficit of wisdom. With wisdom, we can discern what is true, right and life-giving in all the knowledge we have.
‘Sometimes I’d just as soon continue wondering.’
I think there is a link between wondering and wisdom. Our Proverbs reading personifies Wisdom as a woman, Lady Wisdom, called in Greek Sophia. She shouts out aloud in the busiest street—she’d be shouting at the corner of Boundary and Vulture Streets—
How long, O simple ones,
will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
and fools hate knowledge?
Give heed to my reproof;
I will pour out my thoughts to you;
I will make my words known to you.
What does Lady Wisdom want from us? She wants us to listen. She wants us to realise that there are springs of wisdom for us to access. She wants us to make up the deficit of wisdom that we have.
Wonder is a kind of listening. When we wonder at something, we are receptive to what we are seeing and hearing. When we wonder, we are learning the rudiments of wisdom.
It’s as scripture says: ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’. Not fear as in being afraid of a bad guy, but fear as in awe. Wonder. Being receptive.
Wonder leads us to wisdom.
The first followers of Jesus wondered. They wondered how the God who was the great Author of this amazing creation could become small, and appear in a human life that ended in disgrace on a cross.
For example: in Philippians, the Apostle Paul writes
Christ Jesus…was in the form of God;
yet he laid no claim to equality with God,
but made himself nothing,
assuming the form of a slave.
Bearing the human likeness,
sharing the human lot,
he humbled himself, and was obedient,
even to the point of death, death on a cross
This wondering brought a new kind of wisdom to light: the wisdom of the Cross. God—the eternal creator—not only is made flesh, but submits to a shameful death.
The new wisdom taught this:
Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and for the gospel’s will save it.
In Christ, we begin to find that true life is not found in riches and wealth; our true wealth is in open, vulnerable relationship with others.
In Christ, we find there is more blessing in giving than in receiving.
This is why we resist the powerful when they tread upon the hopes of the poor and the refugee.
I hope that we do not live in a deficit of wonder. I hope we continue to wonder throughout our whole life. To wonder at the God of this vast cosmos, who brings the stars to birth, also cares for and loves the particular creatures he has made. Every single one.
Next time you look at the night sky, or see a baby in someone’s arms, wonder at the love of God.
I would have finished on a rather upbeat note such as this, but this week has been a difficult one for my family. We thought my mother would die on Tuesday night, but she rallied with the right treatment. So while mum was recovering in hospital and we were thinking things were calming down, my younger brother in England was found dead on Thursday. As the eldest in our family, I have had to take some responsibilities on board.
What I wonder at is the way our extended family has shown its care for one another through all this.
I mention this only to show that there is always something to wonder at, something that can lead to wisdom, and even to the greatest wisdom of all: the wisdom of the cross.
Delivered at West End Uniting Church, 16 September 2018