“The Wonder Years” was and is a television show focused on the coming of age of its teen characters. The title is quite evocative, but sadly I think it implies that there are certain years full of wonder and then we go on to something else. I wonder if wonder is confined to a particular time in our lives or can it be pervasive?
Some years ago I was trained as a catechist or guide in the children’s formation curriculum of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. This program takes the Montessori method of teaching and applies it to Christian formation of children ages 3-12. One of the primary principles in Catechesis is wonder. When we share a story from the Bible with the children we do not end the story by telling them what it means. Instead, we wonder together about aspects of the story. The children might wonder aloud or in their hearts. It does not matter.
What matters is that the children and the catechist are allowed to wonder. They are allowed to let the story resonate inside. This allows the various aspects of the story—characters, words, setting, actions—to bounce around inside without having to come up with a meaning or, worse, be told a meaning. When we force a meaning onto a story we close it off. The myriad possibilities are no longer allowed to resound within the soul. When a definitive meaning is offered creativity, something children are very good at, is shut down. It also tells the child that creativity is bad and whatever we might have been feeling about the story is wrong unless it fits the defined explanation.
Too many of us were taught that wondering is unproductive. Wondering is a waste of time. Rather than wondering we should be thinking and doing. So we lose the capacity to wonder. We lose the natural impetus to simply gaze upon something or someone in awe. We walk through life with burning bushes everywhere and never notice that God is calling out to us. We miss out on so much.
Recognizing this dilemma we face, the Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote a prayer that asks God to put wonder, awe, amazement, enrapture, and marvel back into our lives. Thus all years can be wonder years, all days wonderful, and our lives filled with wonder.
“Dear Lord, grant me the grace of wonder.
Surprise me, amaze me,
awe me in every crevice of your universe.
Each day enrapture me with your marvelous things without number.
…I do not ask to see the reason for it all:
I ask only to share the wonder of it all.” — Abraham Joshua Heschel