“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.”
― Abraham Joshua Heschel
One of my favorite quotes of all time is this gem from GK Chesterton’s book Orthodoxy:
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
I feel the truth of Chesterton’s words deep in my bones. I have experienced how sin can kill childlikeness in me, bit by bit, until I am “old” with little of the vibrancy of young-ness left in me.
The gradual degeneration from childlikeness into cynicism and self-preservation is slow and happens without my even noticing it. But there are warning signs I can watch for. If I find myself less and less astonished by beauty, less overcome by the joy of awe, then I know my capacity for wonder is fading away and childlikeness is dying with it..
But I believe the child in me can be brought back to life! And though at one time I imagined personal revival depended on the grim, demanding work of uncovering and rooting out my sin, I’ve been surprised to discover that isn’t always necessarily how it works. There’s another kind of revival that is ignited in a moment when a sense of wonder overwhelms me--I’m talking about the “ahhhh!” that rises up out of me when I stand before the ocean, or under a starry sky, or listen to a song that resonates, or hear a story so beautiful I know it must be true.
When I let wonder in, it fills me up so completely that it displaces all that is death and dying in me, realigning my heart with all that is good and true in an instant. (Romans 2:4)
Repentance and the other accouterments of making things right may follow after, but it is wonder that opens the door, making my heart tender enough to repent in the first place. Maybe that’s a part of what Dostoyevsky meant when he said, “beauty will save the world.”
I suppose none of this is really surprising when I recognize that wonder is a summons to worship. Sin, as I understand it, has always been a worship issue anyway--the symptom of our affection being directed somewhere other than God, whether to ourselves, or to the things we hope will give us relief from pain when we feel like God isn’t getting the job done quickly enough.
Giving our hearts to quick fixes like money, sex, or control may feel life-giving at first, but it’s not long before they begin to take life from us. And they will take and take and take until there’s nothing left. This is how we grow old in our spirits.
But a prayer for wonder is a prayer for the Holy Spirit to blow through us like a fragrant Spring breeze—clearing out the cobwebs and dust, blowing the doors and windows open, letting in the life and light of God.
Think of how it feels when a certain scripture comes to life in a way that rings all the bells inside of you. Or the moments when you’re captivated by something beautiful, like driving through the mountains as every turn reveals some new vista that takes your breath away. Or when you witness some act of love, like forgiveness or selflessness. Every other small and unworthy thing that previously held your attention loses its grip and crumbles under the weight of wonder.
The “Ahhh…” rises in us. The chord is struck. Deep calls to deep.The deepest part of us is moved towards the Deep (with a capital “D”) and the rest of us moves with it.
Wonder realigns our worship, resets our compass, and in an instant restores us to childlikeness. It is a firefly in the dark wood that, if we chase it, will lead us back home to the Kingdom of heaven. It is a grace that makes us young again, like our Father.