I keep coming back to a human experience that I think holds the key to understanding who we are as a human species. It is the experience of “wonder”.
Think of it – scientific knowledge, as wonderful as it is, is in the end “about things”. Science tells me an apple is a red, yellow or green sphere of cellulose, permeated with sugar and water; or ice cream, “a food consisting of cream, butter fat, sweetener and frozen”.
Does this Webster Dictionary description tell us what vanilla ice cream really is? Of course not. Human knowledge, to be more than stored computer facts, is experiential. You have to taste vanilla to understand it.
And here’s where the “wonder” part comes in. The most important human experiences elude scientific description; we say things like, “you have to see it for yourself”. Some things, (the Milky Way in the night sky, a new born baby, the death of a lifelong friend, or my own mortality) present a moment that is beyond our ability to fully under- stand and leaves us in a state of shock and “wonder”.
The Psalms are full of this mysterious sense. “Oh Lord, how awesome is your name through all the earth!/ You have set your majesty above the heavens!/ When I see the heavens, the work of your hands/ the moon and stars that you set in place/. . . how awesome is your name through all the earth!” Psalm 8
Psalm 139 echoes this same moment of wonder and awe . . . “Such knowledge is beyond me, too lofty for me to reach . . . How precious are your designs O God; how vast the sum of them. / Were I to count them, to finish I would need eternity.”
Fear and reverence accompany such experiences. We meet face to face a truth that is real but beyond our ability to fully comprehend. It overwhelms us with its mysterious presence.
Such a moment came to me at age 19. I had tickets to an outdoor summer concert by the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra. Its world renowned concert director, George Szell, had just died. There at mid-stage was placed the empty Maestro’s chair.
Before some 8,000 rapt concert goers, with the sun setting on a soft summer night, the orchestra (without conductor) played the soulful strains of Bach’s Air on a G String in his honor. Something happened to me and I think to many in the crowd that night.
All I can say is, I was overwhelmed by “beauty”. And I mean beauty on a thousand different levels: The music transcendent, the new grass all around, the man (now gone) who created this magnificent orchestra, but still present as his musicians played, the thousands of people, silent and in rapped attention . . . and me, feeling 19, and ready to change the world.
It was a moment. We were all plugged into something that I can only describe as JOY. Something bigger and sweeter and more powerful than any one of us. We were together but each of us still ourselves. And we all “looked and saw how good it was”. Can we say Heaven was there for a moment? I can; at least a hint of heaven.
So what’s the point to all this “wonder” stuff? Quite simply these moments are the foothills of God. Children waken to these hills every day. Everything is fresh and full of wonder. They hold that key to who we are . . . the creature that can know and love the Lord.
What’s happened to us? Somehow we’ve lost the eyes to see and the ears to hear. We fill our senses with far lesser beauty. Our cell phones and computers, as wonderful inventions as they are, “reality TV” replaces real life with its wondrous joys and sorrows.
Is there a remedy? Of course there is. Prayer.
Every day. “Lord I want to see your face, your presence.” He knows your need. Ask Him.