to wonder at not wondering


We prize wonder in this world. And yet we seem to experience so little of it. Wonder is the “ability to be curious to know something, to feel surprise mingled with admiration over the inexplicable“, to even feel doubt that acknowledges mystery that keeps us sane. Why is it that real wonder seems missing from our present society? Chesterton made a startling connection between gratitude and wonder as to the reason why:

I do not, in my private capacity, believe that a baby gets his best physical food by sucking his thumb; nor that a man gets his best moral food by sucking his soul, and denying its dependence on God or other good things. I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder. – G. K. Chesterton, A Short History of England (1917)

Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder – a wonder that is attached to something else that keeps us sane and content – mystery. One could almost think of it as an equation (which our present scientifically admiring society seems to think in terms of most everything). So, taken that way, the equation has become unsolvable because gratitude has become ‘x’ and we have no idea how to solve for ‘wonder’. How do we get that back? Chesterton solved the problem for himself this way:

[T]he chief idea of my life … is the idea of taking things with gratitude, and not taking things for granted. – G. K. Chesterton, Autobiography (1936)

The answer was to get back to not expecting anything in this life, not to take anything for granted, to realize we are a hair-breadth away from losing everything we presently have. To realize that, and let it drive us not to fear and greed, but to gratitude and wonder!

When we arrive at that point in our Advent journey, we have accomplished the unlocking of a door to the most important mystery of all mysteries that keep us sane: that we have been created, there is a Creator who loves us and he has a definite plan for saving us from our present problem of death and misery in this world. When we can arrive at a gratitude for that, everything we see shifts into a new perspective. The world changes because we change.

If sunset clouds could grow on trees
It would but match the may in flower;
And skies be underneath the seas
No topsyturvier than a shower.

If mountains rose on wings to wander
They were no wilder than a cloud;
Yet all my praise is mean as slander,
Mean as these mean words spoken aloud.

And never more than now I know
That man’s first heaven is far behind;
Unless the blazing seraph’s blow
Has left him in the garden blind.

Witness, O Sun that blinds our eyes,
Unthinkable and unthankable King,
That though all other wonder dies
I wonder at not wondering.
G. K. Chesterton, The Mystery

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