December 14, 2019

Another Look: Let’s Go Marveling

Swiss Alps (2019)

Let’s go marveling.

“This felicitous phrase is taken from the great Methodist preacher Fred Craddock, who tells of the ancestral practice of taking walks every Sunday afternoon and finding things to marvel at and to share with others” (Wm. P. Brown).

A sense of wonder is essential to the attitude of thankfulness. It is when we go through life “marveling” that we find ourselves most filled with gratitude. “Gratitude” comes from the same root as the word “grace,” and being grateful involves recognizing that my very existence, life, and what I am and have is gift.

The introduction to William Brown’s book, Sacred Sense: Discovering the Wonder of God’s Word and World, is called, “Wonder’s Wonder.” It is a meditation on the concept and an encouragement to let ourselves be “lost in wonder, love, and praise,” as we sing in the old Wesleyan hymn. With approval he quotes this part of the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition:

The emotion excited by the perception of something novel and unexpected, or inexplicable; astonishment mingled with perplexity or bewildered curiosity.

I especially like that last phrase: “astonishment mingled with perplexity or bewildered curiosity.” Here is a sense I find mostly missing in the Christian world with which I am most familiar. I find enthusiasm, excitement, a sort of adolescent exhilaration that interprets relatively banal events with words like “awesome.” But genuine awe — jaw-dropping astonishment that feels as much like fear as joy — is rare.

Brown notes that wonder can spring from unsettling experiences of disorientation, overwhelming us, throwing our preconceived ideas into question, and leaving us breathless, wordless. When Jacobs says, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it!” (Gen. 28:16), he is undone, barely capable of arising. Brown calls this the “Wow!” response.

Wonder can also come from seeing what one called a “sense of perfection in the ordering of the world.” This is profoundly orienting rather than disorienting wonder. Seeing how things actually and elegantly fit together to create something wonder-full is the task of scientists, artists, musicians, story tellers and sages. William Brown calls this the “Yes!” response that complements the “Wow!” Something deep within us responds to beauty, symmetry, and the overwhelming rightness of something we encounter.

We shall continue our discussion of this in days to come, but I want to look ahead a bit and introduce a point that I find key to this whole matter. Here are William Brown’s own words:

In wonder the object of knowing never becomes conquered territory or something consumed. To know something in wonder is to participate rather than to appropriate; it is to be awakened and made vulnerable, transformed in an ongoing adventure of knowing. In wonder, mystery remains, but it remains ever alluring, drawing us into greater awareness. Wonder is prompted by something or someone quintessentially other, wholly outside of us yet striking a resonant chord deep within us. Wonder is being touched by otherness, and it requires becoming vulnerable to the source or object of wonder. Whether in beauty or in ugliness, the experience of wonder comes unbidden, as a disruption and, ultimately, as a gift.

Our cultural predilection would be to see cultivating wonder as yet another method for coming to know God, one way among others. But we do not control wonder. We do not consciously initiate encounters that take our breath away and bring us to our knees. As C.S. Lewis was surprised by joy, so wonder must ever be something we meet, not manufacture.

Comments

  1. Susan Dumbrell says

    Christanne,
    Not a moment of awe.
    I am sorry but Ellenborough Lewis died today at the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital.
    He was just one of many native animals who were taken by the flames.
    He just represents our dwindling native animals as fire, floods, droughts and the actions of man wipe out our heritage.

    https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-11-26/koala-population-at-tipping-point-after-australian-bushfires/11726232

    Susan

    • Susan, this makes me very sad.
      I’ve never seen a live Koala bear but my father did when he served in Australia during the war with the USNavy. He thought it was wonderful.
      Maybe somehow the remnant of the species can be saved and helped to reproduce as they are such a treasure for Australia and for the world.
      Poor little thing. I know they did everything they could for him. So sad today.
      I appreciate you telling me, Susan, though it is bad news. Prayers for you and for Australia. Sending hug.

    • We have all these gifts… and we’ve set ourselves to strip-mine, plow over, burn down, and sack them.

      Perhaps Judgment Day cannot come soon enough.

      • “We have all these gifts… and we’ve set ourselves to strip-mine, plow over, burn down, and sack them. Perhaps Judgment Day cannot come soon enough.”

        Maybe that is the Judgement.

        • The more I reflect on it, the more the Trumpet and Bowl judgements in Revelation look like the projected results of climate change. Crazy? Perhaps, but no less crazy than many other theories tacked onto Revelation over the centuries.

          • I think there is a lot of merit in that idea for those that believe the-end-is-just-around-the-corner. So I often wonder why the evangelical crowd is so opposed to the concept of global climate change.

          • Burro (Mule) says

            You may not want to be included in his category, but the first time I heard this concept was in a 1975 sermon by David Wilkerson, who said that the final judgements of the book of Revelation sounded to him a lot like ‘a global ecological collapse, brought on by our own sins, especially greed and desire for comfort’.

            And David, most of the Evangelical “resistance” to climate change is due to the fact that it closely resembles Marxism, a top-down imposition of austerity by a fastidious elite unwilling to apply it to themselves.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            The more I reflect on it, the more the Trumpet and Bowl judgements in Revelation look like the projected results of climate change. Crazy?

            And during the Age of Hal Lindsay, the more you reflected on it, the more all the Plagues of Revelation looked like the projected effects of Global Thermonuclear War.

            A lot of Revelation ends up as a de facto Rorschach Test — you read your own age’s anxieties and fears into it, and the “plain reading” confirms it.

            • Headless Unicorn Guy says

              When I first “cold-read” Revelation, it just sounded bizarre.

              Then during my time In-Country, I was indoctrinated with the Official Plain Reading (AKA Hal Lindsay’s Late Great Planet Earth) which took decades to detox.

              My current view is that Revelation describes many patterns that repeat in human history. My example is the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse:
              1) The Unnamed Man on the White Horse — a King who is an imitation Messiah, whether from his own ego or believing his own PR. He goes forth to do his thing and by intent, ego, or accident brings forth:
              2) War.
              3) Famine in the war and its aftermath. The author put in a dig on economic exploitation with his “don’t touch the olive oil and the wine” — Roman Asia (his target audience) was a colonial plantation economy, enriching absentee landlords in Rome while the people barely scraped by on the edge of famine, so much arable land was taken up by Olive Oil & Wine plantations.
              4) Pestilence/Disease in the aftermath.
              And Death and Hell (originally Thanatos and Hades, the Hellenistic gods of Death and the Underworld) ride behind scooping up the casualties.

              Until the next Man on the White Horse comes.
              Lather, Rinse, Repeat, Lather, Rinse, Repeat, Lather, Rinse, Repeat…

              A few days ago on YouTube, I came across a “Today foretold in Prophecy” video where the “history written in advance” was the Hindu decline narrative of “Kali Yuga”. One of the more intelligent comments put it this way:
              “This isn’t Prophecy. It’s pre-scientific anthropology and sociology.”

              • –> “My current view is that Revelation describes many patterns that repeat in human history.”

                My own recent revelation is that the Bible, stripped of its spirituality, is a history lesson in human trainwrecks and humanity’s trainwrecks.

                Maybe Revelation, then, is as you say: Just a description of the repeated pattern of human and humanity’s trainwrecks.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          “We have all these gifts… and we’ve set ourselves to strip-mine, plow over, burn down, and sack them. Perhaps Judgment Day cannot come soon enough.”

          “Christ Is Coming Soon and It’s All Gonna Burn anyway.”
          — Standard Christianese response from my time in-country

          (haphazard commenting yesterday & today due to system problems…)

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            The underlying reason for such symptoms is that American Evangelicalism’s Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation has resulted in a Christian Selfishness. MY Personal Salvation, MY Personal Relationship with God, MY place in Heaven.
            The rest?
            “It’s All Gonna Burn.”

            And you end up with a Zero-Sum “Lifeboat Game” with God-Talk.
            Who cares as long as I’m the one who’s Saved?

            As well as an explanation why you found a lot of Ayn Rand Economics among Evangelicals (especially the rich and powerful Christian Leaders); Rand’s Objectivism was a philosophy of Utter Selfishness as Life, The Universe, and Everything. Why should such a Selfish Evangelicalism NOT end up assimilating Objectivist memes and tenets?

      • Burro (Mule) says

        It’s very simple.

        We want something else instead.

        Not excusing. Explaining.

        Guess what
        Get your half pound of cocaine
        for sixteen year old girls in a great big long limousine
        On a hot September night
        Now, that may not be love,
        but it’s alright.

        Randy Newman

  2. Jesus made the extraordinarily odd assertion that a prerequisite for entering the Kingdom of Heaven was a childlike mind. “…you shall in no way enter..”. Now one might argue that a sense of wonder is not the fundamental and essential element that Jesus is pointing toward with that statement and that would be a perfectly legitimate argument but neither could one exclude it as an element of that assertion. It would certainly seem to be a symptom of of an open and humble mind and heart.

  3. All these years of thinking
    have ended up like this-
    In front of all this beauty
    Understanding nothing.

    -Bruce Cockburn

  4. CM: I was browsing some of the articles under Recommended Reading, and the one titled “Why ‘Everlasting’ Does Not Mean ‘Endless’ by Keith Giles” appears to link to a different article by mistake.

  5. Thanks for the post, CM. It’s only through short articles like this that some of us discover writers and ideas we might’ve never found on our own.

    I agree with you on this:

    “I especially like that last phrase: ‘astonishment mingled with perplexity or bewildered curiosity.'”

  6. “We do not consciously initiate encounters that take our breath away and bring us to our knees. As C.S. Lewis was surprised by joy, so wonder must ever be something we meet, not manufacture.”

    While I agree with Lewis that wonder cannot be manufactured it does occur to me that perhaps we can consciously initiate encounters buy putting ourselves in the pathway of wonder. That is one reason why I go hiking and visit natural history museums.

  7. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    “Let’s Go Marveling”
    Sung to this tune?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UPfGL0tDP30

    (and the original, auf Deustch):
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TlAgG-EYkR0