The Art of Wonder by Monsignor Ferrarese

People often stop me and tell me how much they enjoy these weekly reflections. This is especially true of my reminiscences of growing up in the 50’s in Brooklyn. There seems to be something universal in these memories!

One of the constant memories I have of my childhood is the experience of wonder. By this I mean a sense of reverence for the mystery of being that is found in the most common of things. As adults, we bypass these things, considering them of no lasting account. But a child does not so negatively judge the commonplaces of life. Even an infant can gaze with wonder and respect on the symmetry and the usefulness of our hands and even (because an infant can actually gaze upwards at their feet!) of their toes. We lose that sense in us, which is so important to our spiritual lives.

One day when I was about 6 or 7 years old, I got this great idea of taking a watermelon seed from the table and putting it in my pocket. I just learned that seeds can make plants and I wanted to grow a watermelon plant. After that meal, I went to the stone pot in a neighbor’s front yard and, because it had no greenery coming from the earth in it, I thought that I would bury the seed and wait until I could pick watermelons from it.

So, after burying it and watering it, I went anxiously each day to see when the plant would grow. After about a week of worry and expectation, a small sprout broke through the ground. Over the next few days I watched it grow! Finally, I could keep my silence no longer and I ran excitingly to tell my parents about my planting and the expectation that I had about bringing home some free watermelons! Surprisingly my parents started laughing when they heard me. My Mom grabbed me and hugged me trying to set me straight. She said something like, “What are you, stupid? That pot is too small! You should have planted it in the ground where it had room for growth!” Unfortunately, my transplant of the tender plant was not successful. But I still remember my excitement and wonder at how ‘smart’ the seed was in being able to convert to a plant and possibly, if all went well, into fruit for the table!

I had the same sense of childlike wonder with rocks. I got books from the library about rocks. I was so taken with the age of rocks—some were around for millions of years!—I even hunted for valuable rocks. I remember finding a shiny radiant rock in my backyard. I ran home to show my parents that I had found a diamond! My father cracked a joke something like: “Now we can buy a house!” Of course, it was not a diamond.

But my point in sharing these memories is the wonder and excitement of it all that is often lost on adults except for those adults who are saints, artists and scientists. The growth of a plant is amazing! So are stones and rocks that reveal the secrets of the past! Why, then, do we lose this sense of wonder and awe?

 This failure is even more disastrous to our faith life. Our prayer, our faith, our theology and spirituality are based on wonder and awe. We over-use the word ‘awe’ today. Everything now is awesome. This word has taken on the work of the past expression “interesting”. But awe means so much more. When we realize the awesome power of God that created everything out of nothing, it should only leave us gasping. Or when we think about the entrance into human flesh of the almighty God, what could we say? Not only miracles are awesome. The love of God for each one of us is so undeserved and surprising that we should get on our knees each day and be filled with gratitude and praise!

I remember walking into the chapel of the Trappist monastery in La Trappe, France (where the Trappists were founded). As myself and a friend entered, we were struck by the depth of the silence as they all were on their knees before the Blessed Sacrament. I cannot begin to communicate to you the depth of that silence. It was truly awesome.

We should make it our daily prayer that we ask the good Lord that He remove the blindness of our nature and confer on us the gift of spiritual sight so that we can see everything that happens that day as a gift and a communication from God to myself. Then everything will become in me a response filled with gratitude and wonder at the goodness of God!

“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” – Psalm 8:3-5,9

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