For Want of Wonder

During Covid, something G. K. Chesterton said kept coming to mind. I think it helped give me the courage of my convictions.

I’ve done a lot of traveling and now, as Covid recedes (hopefully), folks are traveling again. But not being able to travel for a year brought to mind G. K. Chesterton’s pithy comment: “The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.”[1]

I get it. Years ago, Daniel Boorstin said few Americans are actually travelers. Most are tourists. Tourists are sightseers. They take in the wonders but have lost a sense of wonder.

They’re like Greek armies that conquered ancient civilizations. They used the word for sight to describe these civilizations (as in “sights to see,” sightseers). Greek philosophers used the word for wonder. From this came the first lists of the seven wonders of the world.

But these philosophers didn’t know there are wonders too wonderful to fully grasp. The writer of Proverbs 30 believed “there are three things which are too wonderful for me, four which I do not understand” (vv.18-19). The fourth is a husband and wife making love.

Nuptial union is too wondrous to fully understand, as Augustine noted: “If you understand it, it’s not God.” He embraced the mystical gospel, the “mad eros”[2] revealed in what Augustine called “the marriage bed of the cross.”[3] It’s the marital gospel, the gospel best told in our physical bodies.

But in The Confessions, Augustine wrote that people hardly wonder at this. “People travel to wonder at the height of the mountains, at the huge waves of the seas, at the long course of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and yet they pass by themselves without wondering.”

I think Augustine was saying we pass by our physical bodies and the marital gospel. We pass by the main portal—husband and wife making love—because we’re uncomfortable with it. And so, as I was grounded by Covid, Chesterton’s image of a world starved for “want of wonder” helped give me the courage of my convictions. I launched a course last spring to help a small group of Christians recover a sense of wonder.

It’s felt freeing. God only knows whether this course will yield fruit (that’s his business), but another Chesterton quote has capped off this venture. “There are no dreary sites, only dreary sightseers.”[4] That fits Boorstin’s view that most Americans are tourists, not travelers. Been everywhere, eaten everything, but passing by ourselves without wondering.

If you share any of this feeling, please pray for our colleagues taking this course. We’ll likely not change the world, but we might re-enchant a bit of a world starved for want of wonder.

 

[1] G. K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles (Indo-European Publishing, 2018), 7.

[2] Nicholas Cabasilas, La vie en Jesus Christ [Life in Jesus Christ], 2nd ed. (Chevotogne, 1960), 153.

[3] Augustine of Hippo, Sermo Suppositus 120:3

[4] Dale Ahlquist, Common Sense 101: Lessons from G. K. Chesterton (Ignatius Press; First edition, 2009), 27.

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2 Comments

  1. The Word is full of wonder – seriously – people who don’t see it don’t have good guides – or – they don’t care enough to “see” what’s really there. Or they’re too tired. Get some sleep.

    In 1986 I was TA for JP Moreland during IBS at Arrowhead Springs – before he became as big as he is today. He provoked us as a class – he sounded like he was going to come from the north and then he came from the south completely by surprise – he said “Y’all hear about Oral Roberts seeing a 90 ft Jesus? While praying – a 90 ft Jesus. Heard about this right?” A little scowl, a look down at his notes. Cleared his throat. “Y’know what the problem is?” Long pause. “TOO MANY OF US don’t see Jesus standing 90 feet tall.” I really don’t remember what I thought before he said that but that one remark has stuck with me: I need to and I want to see Jesus standing 90 feet tall.

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