Cultivating Wonder for a Better Tomorrow
“Why is it that the human mind can sort of grasp ‘forever’ but they can’t grasp ‘infinity’? Aren’t they basically the same thing?”
My 12 yr old daughter, who we have affectionately dubbed our “Storyteller” for our online audience, reminds me often about the pure joy of wonder. She asked me this question a couple of days ago, as we were driving home from the movie theatre, finally getting out to see the second installment of The Hobbit series, just the two of us. We discussed her question a bit, for my part mostly challenging her assertion that the human mind can grasp “forever” to begin with. She’s very smart. When I asked her to describe “forever” to me, she said she pictures herself moving forward on a road that stretches far beyond the horizon. I thought that continual motion was a good illustration of the concept of “forever” but that she still couldn’t actually picture it in her mind. She would still be limited by that finite horizon line.
Even while we were having this conversation, sparked from a place of wonder by an open and curious mind, a thought entered my own mind:
Do we touch on the essence of infinity, of forever, every time we marvel at something?
… every time our mind comes in contact with something much bigger than our self, and connects with it on some personal level?
… every time we find ourselves reaching out towards forever through the simple act of wonder?
It’s not like any of us can actually and fully understand concepts like eternity, infinity, outer-space, the universe, the heat of lava, nano-anything, love, the depth of another human person, the soul, etc.
Is wonder the means by which we can personally experience the unfathomable, the unknowable, the essence behind our 5 senses that holds transcendent truth and a universal connection between all living things? How is this different from faith? Is this the place where one might encounter God?
There are so many questions that come from a place of wonder. The kinds of real questions that many of us stopped asking ourselves when we “grew up.”
Somewhere along the line, I think we’re expected, as we mature from childhood to adulthood, to abandon thoughts of wonder. We get wrapped up in the business of everyday living, of our everyday relationships. A sense of wonder is the farthest thing from our minds as we commute to work, plan out meals, clean up the house, do our job, or watch/read the news. Overall, our sense of wonder is put to sleep.
Wonder is kids’ stuff. We’re expected to outgrow such childishness.
But wonder is everywhere. Take a 6 yr old to work with you and you’ll see! That train or car ride to work is full of wonder, full of unanswered questions! There is so much to see! So much for your brain to figure out! At the office, it’s no different. Actually, unless you’re ready for an incessant stream of questions while trying to work, don’t take your children to work with you. It’s like that scene in “Elf” where Buddy goes to work with his dad for the first time, only I think by that point in the movie, he’s much more tame than someone much younger would be. All that office equipment, what is it all for? Why are you on the 3d floor? There’s so much to see out that window! Where do the papers go after you’re done with them? Can I push that button? And so much more. Wonder. Did it ever really go away? Or have I lost the skill? Or simply the interest?
Why should wonder matter to me? Here’s why I believe that wonder is for people of all ages; it’s not just for kids (this means you, Silly Rabbit):
Wonder connects us to the world around us beyond what we see, touch, or otherwise experience or even comprehend.
Wonder strikes a harmonious chord in us, one that we have just noticed outside of ourselves, and we resonate with it in response, in a deep, vibration, kind of level.
Wonder “blows our mind” as some would say after experiencing it. It expands us, our scope of vision, our ability to really see other people, other cultures, other worlds.
Wonder is completely warm and comforting, and somehow true, as it grows us, lifts us, and broadens us.
Wonder fills us with hope, even as it fills us with questions. Because, especially as we grow a bit older, when childish wonder expands into a teenage, and, if we allow it, an adult form; as we mature,
Wonder changes us.
I believe that we are meant to wrestle with those questions that come with the overwhelming warmth and awe of wonder. The questions are a part of the experience, so that we wrestle with them, even as the experience fades. The magic of the moment gets filed away in a half-forgotten memory, and we do the same with the questions, stamping a label on both of them: CHILDISH. I think we do ourselves and our fellow human beings a huge disservice when we do so.
Perhaps we no longer ask difficult questions because we have lost our sense of wonder.
We are so steeped in the wonders of technology and media, we have wondrous stories and interactions continually washing over us and around us. When was the last time one of those stories washed through you? When was the last time you watched a movie, heard a song, read a book, or experienced a performance, and you were moved by it to such a point that it travelled through you, that it filled you with wonder and then begged for you to ponder hard questions?
What kinds of questions? Questions like these:
What does it feel like to be in outer space?
What does complete silence sound like?
What if an apocalyptic event occurred: would my family and friends know that I love them?
What is it like to be in slavery?
How have different cultures in different times measured time?
Where does the wind come from?
Where does love come from?
How do you know someone is truly a friend?
Who am I responsible for?
If I witnessed someone mistreated in front of my very eyes, would I do something about it?
If people in a land far, far away, were in any way treated as slaves or sub-humans, for my daily comfort, would this matter?
Why is there suffering in the world?
What is my responsibility in helping other human beings?
Why does the sun follow us everywhere we go?
Why does the moon do the same at night?
What if you held an answer to one of life’s big questions, but you stopped wondering about life and no longer allowed unanswerable questions to bother you? The great inventors and abolitionists of the past never stopped asking themselves these questions, and I believe they never lost their sense of wonder. Perhaps it was more focused: the wonder of science, or the wonder of human love. If we ever fly around in personal spaceships it will be because someone kept wondering about it. If we ever see the end of human slavery, it will be because someone struggled with the tough questions, wondered over our human condition, marveled over our resilience and our willingness to sacrifice, and then did their part in rectifying this inhuman situation. If any good comes about, it will be because someone allowed wonder to enter their lives and change them.
Find your ability to wonder, steep in it for a while, it will do you and the world a whole lot of good. And if you’re struggling to find where you misplaced it along the way, spend some time with a child. Show up with a box of crayons and paper and get down on the floor with them. Take them to the zoo, or downtown, or on a train ride (with their parents’ permission, naturally). Or if all else fails, go out to the movies, to see a kids’ movie – preferably with a kid – and learn to marvel, to wonder, all over again.
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