As mentioned earlier on this blog, a couple of weeks ago, Ken Myers (Mars Hill Audio) visited with our school community for a few days. In his first session with our faculty (when he also introduced me to the poem sparking my title for this blog), he spoke about our need to recapture the art of “wondering,” and I think he was pointing at us as much as at our students. In a time of schedules, “do lists,” and back-to-back appointments followed by demands of family, home and it goes on and on . . . little time is left to wonder.
Ken mentioned that we use the word pandemonium to speak of chaotic times, forgetting the root for the word means “all demons.” He reminded us as well that in one memorable letter from Screwtape to his apprentice Wormwood (letter #22 I think), the elder demon admonishes the younger never to allow his subject extended time for quiet and reflection. His made a strong point that “noise” always works in their favor and the 20th century seems to be solidly on their side in this regard. Ironically, I write this in an airplane 30,000 feet above the lands between Orlando and Los Angeles. There is so much noise it is actually almost quiet. So I can wonder about wondering. And I see several currents all coming together.
Not only did Ken spark the thoughts, but on the heels of Ken’s remarks came the lecture from McCullough. One of his more memorable stories was of an exercise required by an unforgettable professor at Princeton. This man tasked his students with looking at a fish . . . for hours. And McCullough recounted that only after he thought he should bored to death did he begin to see more – symmetries, beauty, detail – that he had not seen before. Then he began to sketch and saw still more. He wondered at the fish. Some years later, he told us, his wife made him a small framed piece which hangs over his desk: “Look at your fish.” Further, he said that many people ask how he writes and researches, but nobody asks about how he thinks. Writers have to take time to think, he said. The best writers need to wonder.
Finally, I use airplane time to catch up reading past issues of Touchstone magazine. And this evening, in the May/June 2011 issue, I read the following in a brief piece from Anthony Esolen, one of the editors:
Aristotle says that all philosophy begins in wonder, . . . . It’s all the difference between beholding and analyzing, not that analyzing doesn’t have its uses, and not that it isn’t necessary, but it isn’t the first thing to do, nor is it, I think, the most significant thing to do. The word itself suggests why not: to analyze is to break into parts. But to behold is to look upon a thing in wonder as from a distance, and to appreciate it as a shining whole, and to seek to sense some small measure of the mystery of its being.
I think wondering requires an orientation of the soul – away from the many to the few (and ultimately to the One), away from the busy to the still, away from the noise to the quiet. It is a terribly inefficient use of time wondering is, but I think it’s a crucial necessity of being human. When we wonder we are reminded that there is a God who creates – not only the things we wonder about, but our very capacity to wonder at His creation! When we wonder we become small again and that is not a bad thing. Too often people equate their busy-ness with some perverse and distorted sense of their indispensability. But it is good to be reminded that we are far less necessary to our world than we care to realize. This is why worship must bring us ultimately to a place of wonder – wondering at God’s bigness and significance and beauty, and admitting our smallness in it all.
God our Father, after all, is the most wonderful Being and Idea in all the universe!