The wonder and mystery we seek during Advent and Christmas
We prize wonder in this world. And yet we seem to experience so little of it that is not manufactured and artificial. 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 the mystery in life 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, Chesterton asserted – 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 be surprised that we have two legs instead of one, to realize we are a hair-breadth away from losing everything we presently have. To realize all of that, and let it drive us not to fear and greed, but to gratitude and wonder! The kind of wonder that a trusting child has that something good is on the other side of that door because we trust the One who opens it for us.
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, that there is a Creator who loves us and that 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. Life changes because we change. That is the biggest discovery we can make in our Advent journey. We change. We go back to being as fascinated as a young child who wonders what is behind the door as this famous child’s television program from the 60s began….
If Chesterton had been alive to see it, he too would have been as delighted as so many viewers, now older, remark upon how that famous and magical door entranced them!
What God has done in giving us life at all, in providing a way back to Him is like standing and watching those doors open and wondering what was going to be behind them and inside that big door! It should fill us with a wondering at why we don’t wonder anymore and remember what that lovely excitement at a mystery about to be revealed to us feels like again.
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