Watching the thought processes of our one-year-old grandson has been fascinating! I try to guess at what he is thinking as evidenced by his facial expressions, his eyes, and his movements. I marvel at all that I cognitively know is happening – the formation of brain synapses, the sorting out of the huge volume of sounds and letters and facial expressions, and the barrage of environmental stimuli he processes moment by moment. I seem to have missed some of this wonder the first time around with our own children – so busy with work, responsibility, and activity that seemed important at the time. It seems my grandson and I are united at times in wonder – his the wonder of a child experiencing all things as new, and my wonder in re-seeing reality at different levels and understanding the limits of my understanding and God’s complexity.
Could I ask you to take a step back to wonder? I fear that our structures form us and our school structures are especially designed for efficiency, not wonder. It is simply not efficient to engage too long in wonder – yet wonder is a key element of a truly Christian education. Wonder arises from a deep and attentive observation of reality – not through a quick skimming – the survival habit we are currently developing in our fast-paced world. It is the difference between raising kids or teaching students versus really entering into their world and their reality. Quality wondering takes a commitment to time and a willingness to ponder deeply – it must become a habit of our heart and mind. Religious scholar and educator Sofia Cavaletti put it this way:
“When wonder becomes a fundamental attitude of our spirit it will confer a religious character to our whole life, because it makes us live with the consciousness of being plunged into an unfathomable and incommensurable reality. If we are disposed to reflect on reality in its complexity, then it will reveal itself to be full of the unexpected, of aspects we will never succeed in grasping or circumscribing; then we will be unable to close our eyes to the presence of something or someone within it that surpasses us. Even calling it “the absurd” is also a way of recognizing its immeasurability. But the religious person will break out in a hymn of praise and admiration.” (Cavalletti, Sofia. The Religious Potential of the Child. New York: Paulist Press, 1983.)
One major concern regarding children’s wonder raised by Caveletti is that we run the risk of extinguishing the emotional capacity of the child when we offer children too much stimuli too fast – the child loses the sense of surprise. In her experience, spending time on worthy objects of attention and wonder such as the Gospel – in particular, the parables of the Kingdom of God, serve “to offer the child’s wonder an object capable of taking the child always farther and deeper into the awareness of reality, an object whose frontiers are always expanding as the child slowly proceeds in the contemplation of it.” In his book Eyes Wide Open, Steve DeWitt suggests that “wonder is what image-bearers feel when they glimpse a reflection of God’s beauty,” and that wonder reminds us of how God designed us to live: in shalom and harmony with God, man, creation, and ourselves. (DeWitt, Steve. Eyes Wide Open: Enjoying God in Everything. Grand Rapids, Mich: Credo House Pub, 2012)
Our greatest gifts to our students this year may be to help them wonder deeply at how the image of God is made evident in them, to sustain and teach the habit of wondering, and then to teach them where to direct their consequent worship – toward the Creator.