“wonder is the feeling of a philosopher, and philosophy begins in wonder… It was their wonder, their astonishment, that first led men to philosophize and still leads them,” (982 b12). In his work of Metaphysics, Aristotle describes the foundations and inspirations of a true philosopher. A great description of wonder is the feeling of enthrallment, or admiration at something beautifully unfamiliar. Nowadays, it seems as though our collective ability to wonder as a society is diminished. Whether it’s just a general disconnect, or the wildly unexpected pandemic, our minds are set towards simply making it through the week rather than seeing the beauty each day provides. Yet how do we reunite with the admiration for life?
Wonder is something we first experience as children. A blinking toy or a puppy can immediately capture the attention of a small child, yet I think we fully experience compelling adoration when our formal education begins. In short, I believe that wonder is first truly experienced when a child learns how to read. To prove my claim, I’d like to share the power of wonder through a personal experience:
If you were to ask my family and friends for one word to describe me, “rule-breaker” would not come to mind. I’m actually quite fond of rules. The notion of abiding by rules, so long as they are reasonable, has always seemed reasonable in itself to me. However, when I was a child, there was a specific rule that I did not follow, and with good reason. Being unaccustomed to unruliness, I was surprised at the rush I felt in committing the ultimate crime of staying up past my bedtime. I broke rules, not in pursuit of playing video games or watching television; those were not worth the risk. Instead, soon after my parents would come in to turn off my light, I would quietly fetch a book and my adventure would begin.
Despite constant intervention from my parents, my crime streak pursued. Desperation to continue into the thrilling and inspiring land of books stoked the criminal mind. In the darkness of night, I would perch beneath the covers with my Nintendo DS illuminating a book’s enlivening words. If that is not beautiful irony, I do not know what is.
To my eight-year-old mind, this was a harrowing and risky experience, yet the joy I found in reading surpassed my fear of punishment. When the Nintendo was confiscated, I was temporarily thwarted. So, I moved on to my next option: holding my parent’s old flashlight in my mouth as I attempted to keep the pages flattened. Eventually, this tactic was exposed as well. The cycle of crime and punishment (pun intended), continued ad nauseum, until one Christmas when my small world was given a new light source. My parents had naively given me a Kindle. This fascination with entering the worlds that my books provided may have involved breaking some rules, but the results were worth it. Reading the Chronicles of Narnia and other books of poetry were my first exposures to transcendent ideals which have undoubtedly served me well in life. So long as the sources of our wonder are formative and nurturing to the soul, I think they’re worth staying up past our bedtimes.
When I was a child, I acted as a such, and I read like a sleepy child who enthusiastically broke my parents’ rule. Reading books now is no longer an act of rebellion, but what remained was the zeal to immerse myself into the insights and adventures my books provided. One would think that having millions of books at my virtual fingertips would satiate curiosity forever, and to an extent it has. With endless information just a hop, skip, and internet search away, reading is not always so poignant as it used to be. Despite the virtual overstimulation we encounter today, we must ground ourselves in the true, good, and beautiful that God has placed in our lives; for they create the sources of our fascinations. They may not be found while secretly reading under the covers, but as adults we must consistently seek out sources of wonder. Whether it is through our relationship with God, our relationships with people and the world around us, or just reading a good book, we are experiencing life to the fullest when we embrace the zeal of our inner child. By searching for wonder, we take a step towards embracing the compulsion to know; that reason for defying restrictions and for fully living.