“Never once in my life did I ask God for success, or wisdom, or power or fame. I asked for wonder and He gave it to me” – Abraham Joshua Heschel
In the life of Heschel, it may be noted that there was certainly academic success, the wisdom of experience, observation and reflection, the power of influence and the fame of a celebrated author with rabbinical authority. However, it all began with the gift of wonder.
Cast your memory back, if you will, to the time when you were around three or four years of age. What can you remember of the world around you at that time when the air fizzed with possibilities and the most audacious ideas were just a whisper away from magical fulfilment? Did the impressions formed then still leave their mark, like a signet ring pressed into molten wax? Do you remember asking an endless stream of questions like why, where, how and when? How does it work? Where are we going? What will we do next?
The sense of curiosity that awakened with each new dawning led to fresh adventures, making sense of daily routines and adding compound interest to a growing wealth of understanding.
Even in dark and difficult moments, the imagination still teamed with alternative scenarios and curiosity gathered apace with the sweet hint that the key to a bright future was just waiting to be found.
What Heschel recommends however, is that curiosity and wonder should not be cast adrift with the tides of years. He explains his philosophy thus.
“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement … to get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”
To live each day in tandem with such vibrant, dynamic expectation may sound like an exhausting existence, but it surely banishes the fog of complacency, lethargy and despair. Curiosity and wonder, embraced as valued companions enrich all our seasons in life, nudging us towards new solutions, higher skills, deeper relationships and fresh enlightenment. Our children and grandchildren bless us with the opportunity to see the world again through vision undimmed by commonplace views.
It is still all magical. The senses tingle, the elements orchestrate, sounds are tumultuous, the sights still dazzling. Could we but retain some treasure from our childhood sense of wonder, how much more vibrant our daily life would continue to be.
In his beautifully composed book, ‘Love Song in Harvest’, the former missionary, Geoffrey Bull devotes his final chapter to the birth of Obed, a son for Ruth and Boaz and “ a restorer of life” to the aged Naomi. At close of day, Naomi holds the infant close in an embrace that spoke of all the dearest hopes that she had once put sadly to rest, now revived in glorious fulfilment.
“For in that moment of sunset, Ephratha’s fields were flushed with glory, and there beyond the glow and wonder, I heard the song of other voices, an angel host in Bethlehem’s sky. I thought the shepherds in the hills must hear it; and all the world must surely echo it, this song of love to earth descending. This song of The Child.”
What must it have been like for that other child, the Son of God, to awaken to humanity’s structure, to look upon Creation through human eyes, to walk and speak with those he came to save and to see the wonder and curiosity that followed in his wake?
What overwhelming sense of wonder must have invaded the minds of those who were brought together on Calvary’s hill, the thief in newborn faith, the centurion in humbled recognition, the grief stricken knot of devoted ones clasped in that time of darkness and light, pain and triumph, death and life? It is the wonder of redeeming love.
To be spiritual is to be amazed. Yes, how true!