Wonder

by Dale Alquist

There is no excuse for being bored. The world is overflowing with more than enough beauties and fascinations and mysteries to fill several lifetimes. There are always more books to be read, and, amazingly enough, still more books to be written. There are more problems to be solved, and more solutions to be celebrated. And there are endless games to be played. And yet the modern world is bored. Modern art reflects the boredom. So do the people who patronize it. No great literature is being produced. And, if it is, certainly no one is reading it. On the social front, most of the genuine injustices are being fought by only a few lonely voices, while the rest of us languidly turn our heads. And games are something we hire professionals to play for us, while we merely watch. Our entertainment grows louder, flashier, and more bizarre in ever more desperate attempts just to keep our attention.

As G.K. Chesterton proclaims: “The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.” There are no dreary sights, he declares, only dreary sightseers. He claims that there were two things he never encountered in his whole life: an uninteresting subject or an uninteresting person. But he did find many uninterested persons. The Bored. The Cagey. The people who think the excitement is elsewhere, never here. These were the people he was trying to convice of a very important lesson in life: that the richest discoveries are the things close by, the things overlooked. “We may scale the heavens and find new stars innumerable, but there is still the new star we have not found–that one on which we were born.”

For Chesterton, everything is a source of fascination. As a young man, he realized that no one else seemed to take such “a fierce pleasure in things being themselves” as he did: he says he was startled and excited by “the wetness of water, the fieriness of fire, the steeliness of steel, the unutterable muddiness of mud”. This led him to understand that when we call a man “manly” or a woman “womanly” we touch the deepest philosophy. It also led him to understand his own vocation as a writer and a literary artist. He was not selfish with his gift of being able to see the world in all its fullness. He tried to give us his eyes to see the world as he saw it, to reawaken in us a sense of wonder.

The whole object of real art, of real romance–and, above all, of real religion–is to prevent people from losing the humility and gratitude which are thankful for daylight and daily bread; to prevent them from regarding daily life as dull or domestic life as narrow; to teach them to feel in the sunlight the song of Apollo and in the bread the epic of the plough. What is now needed most is intensive imagination. I mean the power to turn our imaginations inwards, on the things we already have, and to make those things live. It is not merely seeking new experiences, which rapidly become old experiences. It is really learning how to experience our experiences. It is learning how to enjoy our enjoyments.

Our first act each day should be an act of thanksgiving. We should begin by being grateful to have been created. We should regard life as an ecstasy, a mercy, an unbelievable privilege. And yet, it is the hardest of all earthly tasks to turn back and wonder at the simplicities we have come to ignore. For some strange reason the most unpopular of all doctrines is the doctrine that declares the common life divine. Though we praise democracy, it turns out that there is nothing that so terrifies men as the decree that they are all kings. And Christianity, oddly enough, is the hardest of gospels; for there is nothing that so strikes men with fear as the saying that they are all the sons of God.

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