Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 11, 2002
Wonder lets life's magic trickle in
By MSGR. JIM LISANTE
It makes you wonder. We tend to say that when shrugging off some silly or outrageous element of the human condition.
But, in fact, it's really good to wonder - to deeply, intensely wonder. "Wonder" might mean something like day-dreaming or something gut-wrenchingly real.
Wonder is our response to something we experience or encounter that literally takes our breath away. And it's also one of God's gifts to His people.
Somewhere back around 1600 years ago, St. Augustine of Hippo wrote, "People travel to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars; and they pass by themselves without wondering."
He was himself a man who spent his entire life wondering. He wondered about good and evil, life and death, God and himself - and the rest of us, as well.
Let's move forward. Let me introduce you to a man who also spent his life thinking and wondering about everything under the sun and beyond it. Lewis Thomas was a doctor, a teacher, a biologist and an author. Respected in medical and scientific communities, he was dean of Yale University School of Medicine and later president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. He died in 1994.
But it was his writings that I rediscovered not long ago that got me thinking about wonder. His collection of essays, The Lives of a Cell became a bestseller, and The Medusa and the Snail - More Notes of a Biology Watcher won a Christopher book award. His work is infused with a curiosity about the universe in all its minutia and magnificence.
"Wonder is a word to wonder about," Dr. Thomas wrote. "It contains a mixture of messages: something marvelous and miraculous, surprising, raising unanswerable questions about itself, making the observer wonder, even raising skeptical questions like 'I wonder about that.'
Miraculous and marvelous are clues; both come from an ancient Indo-European root meaning simply to smile or laugh.
Anything wonderful is something to smile in the presence of, in admiration (which, by the way, comes from the same root, along with, of all telling words, mirror)."
Like Augustine, Lewis Thomas thought people were worth a considerable amount of our wonder. He called us a young species, "still learning, still growing up, but still juvenile." He went on, "We are not like the social insects. They have only the one way of doing things and they will do it forever, coded for that one way. We are coded differently, not just for . . . go or no-go. We can go four ways at once . . . go, no-go, but also maybe plus what the hell, let's give it a try. We are in for one surprise after another if we keep at it . . . Provided we do not kill ourselves off, and provided we can connect ourselves by the affection and respect for which I believe our genes are also coded, there is no end to what we might do."
If we only open our eyes to see, we will find within us the "miraculous and marvelous" for we are thinking, feeling beings - wonders in a wondrous universe.
If we only open our eyes to see, we will find not only an amazing creation, but our eternal Creator as well: "I sought You at a distance and did not know that You were near," said Augustine. "I sought You abroad in Your works and behold, You were in me."
Now, that's reason to simply stop - and wonder.
(For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, Being a Good Neighbour, write: The Christophers, 12 East 48 St., New York, NY, 10017; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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