Wonder: Height of Soul
“The child’s father and mother marveled at what was being said” (Lk. 2:33).
There is an old story of a little prince and a rose. The prince lived on an asteroid far off in space. On that asteroid was a single rose, the sole affection of his heart. But the climate on the asteroid was not well suited for a rose. The winds blew. The sun beat down on it. Worst of all, stubborn weeds were a constant threat to the rose. The prince made it his whole life’s purpose to guard and nurture the rose. He treasured it, watered it, uprooted the weeds, and even kept a little glass dome over the rose to protect it. We have to guard and nurture our affection for Christ with the same focused diligence.
Our gospel today centers around marveling. St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin marvelled at everything being said. You can be sure they marvelled from the very start. A mysterious virgin birth, angelic visitations, a stable full of shepherds and magi together worshipping on their knees, every moment since this child’s birth was a moment pregnant with wonder. Simeon marvelled at this vision: Israel’s redeemer. He marvelled as only an old man might beholding a gleam of hope. “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel.” Prophetess Anna marvelled. She had fasted and prayed for nearly a century, waiting for divine intervention. Here was all the intervention of heaven wrapped up in a little child.
What did the Queen of Heaven do on earth? Yes, she gave birth to God, but what did she do for the rest of her life? What was unique in her heart before giving birth, through the life of Christ up to his death, and long afterwards in the care of the apostles? She marvelled. After the shepherd’s adoration, the scriptures tell us, “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Lk. 2:19). Again, after finding Christ with the rabbis, “[she] treasured all these things in her heart (Lk. 2:51). For the rest of the scriptures, the Blessed Virgin remains mostly quiet. She follows her son, for the most part in the background but always profoundly present. She spends her life cherishing the mystery of the incarnation, and we must do the same.
The psalter is also a story of marveling over God. King David was a man flawed in many ways. Yet, despite all his shortcomings, he was a man after God’s own heart. How do we explain this? He repented. After each failing, he turned to God immediately. Yet, why did he repent? What was so unique in his heart that he could repent when so many of us struggle with it? David cherished God. “One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold [to contemplate, to delight in, to wonder over] the beauty of the Lord” (27:4). St. Joseph, Simeon, Anna, and King David all shared this virtue in common: they marvelled over God.
St. Isaac the Syrian describes wonder at God as the highest state of the soul.
"[Wonder at God] is the mystery of the future state and life...[At this point] the soul does not pray a prayer, but in awareness she perceives the spiritual things of that other age which transcend human conception…[The Holy Spirit] brings them forth from prayer into theoria...awestruck wonder at God."
We call ourselves Christians. What does that mean? What kind of people are we supposed to be? We are meant to be wonderful – so full of wonder that the wonder radiates from us. Our wonder should be contagious, so that anyone around us wonders why we wonder, and wants this wonder for his own.
We have to learn to wonder. But it is not easy. We lose our wonder so quickly. The philosopher grieved: “We are perishing for lack of wonder, not for lack of wonders.” The world has a way of killing wonder. It is like the wind and the weeds on the little prince’s asteroid. That rose was the most precious sight on the asteroid, but it was fragile. It came with a cost. In fact, it required daily vigilance on behalf of the prince. In the same way, we have to take care to protect the wonder in us. Our affection for God is fragile, like a small flame in the wind.
Each holy season nurtures our soul in a specific way. Christmastide is for nurturing wonder. The Christmas trees and decorations are enchanting because they wake up a little marvel in us. The feast is holy for the same reason. Orthodoxy calls us to feast through all twelve days of Christmas. Our religious obligation now is to enjoy life: by making an effort to savor food and drink, to cherish company with our loved ones, to cultivate hearts of gratitude in all things. This is the medicine we need and the grace of the season. In this bright celebration of the incarnation, God invites us into that cosmic worship, one ceaseless state of wonder.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.