“I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”
“In the beginning, people looked at the world about them in wonder. Then they began to make sense of whatever they could. But the wonder persisted. Eventually they came to believe they could understand everything, that whatever does not make sense is simply not true—it does not exist. That’s when the wonder died.” [The Lubavitcher Rebbe]
Today it seems that most people think that “Divine Truth” ought to be “observable” or “empirical;” something we should be able to readily grasp with our intellect. But, nothing should be considered further from the truth. If Divine Truth is “perfect” and we are “imperfect” mortal beings, then why should we expect that understanding Divine Truth must be purely of an intellectual nature?
As a child, I was guided into the realm of “wonder” by great books, great movies, and great, billowy cumulus clouds gliding overhead on long summer days. I had people in my life that encouraged me to dream, and dream big. But “Wonder,” with a capital “W,” often overrules everything else for us as adults, oddly enough, when we lose a loved one or suffer some other sudden catastrophe of titanic proportion. In those moments, for those who are, way deep-down inside, more interested in Truth than their own opinions, Wonder overwhelms all else. “Humility” comes with the sudden devastation of the catastrophe, and Wonder is, for some of us, the silver lining left behind, in its wake.
When I wonder, as I call it, a “healthy wonder,” I give up my own thoughts, my own opinions, not to just anyone or anything, but to the guidance of God. Healthy Wonder is a lot like listening for me; and listening, real listening, takes a corresponding sense of humility. In my experience, at the inspiration of a sense of wonder, there is first a drawingness of thought “outward” and “upward,” a kind of attentive lifting of the eyes of the soul until I can finally “see” beyond the obvious into what I consider to be the outskirts of the realm of the One who is truly worthy of wonder. And then, sometimes, more often than not, a door is opened and insight enters into my heart like a torpedo of light exploding into fireworks of realization deep inside. Humility, it seems, is the beginning and the end of Wonder; the desire for contact with Divine Truth rising far above and beyond that of retaining possession of my own mortal thoughts and opinions.
“Two forces set the stage for your act upon this earth: Love and fear. With love, you set your goals. With fear, you set your boundaries. One who fears failure is bound to take no risks. One who fears others is banished from his own self. One who fears life has no room to breathe.” [Chabad.org]
The only thing we, as believers, need to “fear,” or be in “awe” of, is God; He is the reality beyond our own that defines and determines all that we do. And so it is that the only One that we should truly fear is also the One who loves us most in the entire universe.
“Jacob, the ancestor of the Jewish people, was on a journey going far away from home. The sun set, and he lay down and slept, dreaming of a ladder reaching from earth to heaven. The basic perspective of Judaism is that “earth,” meaning practical, physical life in all its detail, and “heaven,” spirituality and holiness, are closely connected. In every area of activity, we have the opportunity to express this connection. The physical details of Jewish law provide guidance how to achieve this. For example, the Zohar tells us that the ladder in Jacob’s dream represents prayer. Like the ladder, prayer reaches from earth to heaven. It is the means for every individual person to connect with G‑d.” [“Joining Worlds” by Tali Loewenthal]
As Christians, our spiritual heritage as found being rooted in Judaism is filled with wonder, and yet, I wonder to what degree Christianity’s systematic theology and popular emphasis on “holy living” has taken the wonder out of Wonder. And if we wonder in small, overly protected, pseudo-sacred closed systems of thought about the great El Olam, God of the Universe, then not only do we counter-intuitively despise our own spiritual heritage, seriously compromising our own spiritual identity,our own sense of who we are supposed to be in God’s eyes, it might be argued that, in fact, we do not really “wonder” at all. We merely tell ourselves that we do so unaware of our own self-inflicted condition of theological imprisonment.
Albert Einstein is quoted as saying: “He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.” The master physicist here describes the childlike demeanor that cultivates a proper perception of the Universe.
“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Here the Messiah who came and is coming again describes the childlike demeanor required to cultivate a proper perception of things beyond the Universe.
On this subject, the twentieth century human physicist and the first century divine carpenter are in total agreement.
May we choose to enter into Wonder like a little child, as Jesus taught, dispatching with whatever preconceived adult notions hold us back. And may our childlike wonder transform us into becoming even more wonder-filled, therefore, more wonder-full, adults. Shabbat shalom.