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What a wonderful world – Christian Brother Brian Grenier gleams God’s gift of wonder and wisdom

Awe-filled: “If, like many of our contemporaries, we are self-absorbed and have a strong tendency to take things for granted, even life itself, we will have little time or inclination to consider the ultimate questions.”

RESPONDING to God’s invitation in a dream, “Ask what I should give you”, Solomon did not seek personal possessions, wealth, honour, the destruction of his enemies or length of days. 

The better to govern God’s people, he asked for wisdom and knowledge. 

He sought an understanding mind, a listening heart (“shama” in Hebrew), to discern between good and evil (1 Kings 3:9-11; 2 Chronicles 1:7-18).

Jesus, who was surely familiar with these scriptural passages, sometimes put a similar question to the people he encountered in the exercise of his ministry. 

To take but one of many examples in the Gospels: he asked a blind man on the outskirts of Jericho, “What do you want me to do for you?”

The afflicted man replied, “Lord, let me see again.”

To this heartfelt plea Jesus responded: “Receive your sight; your faith has saved you” (Luke 18:41-42).

Today and every day Jesus asks us, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Whatever our needs, we can find reassurance in the words he addressed to his disciples: “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you” (Matthew 7:7).

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7)

My favourite Jewish writer is the late revered Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel – Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, still sharing his considerable wisdom with an appreciative readership, comes a close second. 

Mindful of God’s continuing beneficence to his people and aware of what, in his heart of hearts, he himself stood most in need of, Rabbi Heschel wrote in the preface to a book of his poems, “Never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame. I asked for wonder, and he gave it to me.” 

It may never have occurred to us to ask God for the gift of wonder or that wonder is a gift at all. 

However, it is indeed a precious gift to be received with gratitude, nurtured by whatever means we have at our disposal and, in a world that needs to rediscover it, shared with others. 

In this connection G.K. Chesterton, always a fount of wisdom, had this to say: “Of one thing I am certain, that the age needs, first and foremost, to be startled, to be taught the nature of wonder.” 

For him the created world was ever “a wild and startling place”. 

He took “fierce pleasure” not only in his experience of the transcendent but also in the most commonplace things. 

“The startling wetness of water excites and intoxicates me: the fieriness of fire, the steeliness of steel, the unutterable muddiness of mud.”

Another writer, the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), in an essay on imagination, claimed that all philosophy begins and ends in wonder. 

Ideally, the wonder that is, at first, the child of ignorance will become, in time, the parent of adoration.

In similar vein Heschel asserts that a human being’s awareness of the divine arises from wonder or “radical amazement” at the “grandeur or mystery … with which we are confronted everywhere and at all times”. 

Asked by an interviewer what he believed to be his greatest gift, he replied without hesitation, “My ability to be surprised”.

If, like many of our contemporaries, we are self-absorbed and have a strong tendency to take things for granted, even life itself, we will have little time or inclination to consider the ultimate questions. 

Devoid of a sense of wonder and awe, we will have no urge to sing with Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, “O what a wonderful world!”

Br Brian Grenier is a Christian Brother in Brisbane.

Written by: Guest Contributor
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