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Rediscovering the wonder around us

  • Melinda Selmys, OSV Newsweekly
  • |
  • December 04 2014
CNS photo/Debbie Hill

Exploring God’s creation with a sense of curiosity not only can help cure boredom, but also foster growth in Christ

In the 1980s, two Norwegian scientists collected small soil samples from two locations several miles apart. The first contained 4,000-5,000 species of microbial life. The second yielded a similar diversity, but they were different species. One of the most seemingly boring things in the world — a handful of mud — contains an incredible breadth of life, much of it unique and wholly unknown.

Boredom is an amazing thing if you think about it. We live in an impossibly improbable universe maintained by the unfathomable wisdom of an infinite God. We inherit billions of years of explosive, divine creativity. We have access to the creative, scientific, intellectual and practical accomplishments of billions of human beings over thousands of years.

We have minds capable of generating ideas, art and culture. We are endowed with wonderfully expressive bodies that give our ideas form. And we have souls capable of seeking out the God responsible for all of this wild beauty — a God who invites us to sup at the banquet of his own self.

And yet, we are bored. Why?

The simple answer is ingratitude, but it’s not a very helpful answer. If we think of boredom as an unwillingness to give thanks, we are likely to get sucked down into an unproductive meditation on our own wretchedness. In a world full of wonders, the only subject less interesting than my boredom is the contemplation of how inadequate I ought to feel for being bored.

Conquering boredom means becoming alive to the wonder that is freely on tap everywhere, in all circumstances of life.

A defense of novelty

Wonder is closely linked to a sense of novelty. We sometimes see this as a bad thing — people seem obsessed with fads, constantly chasing new horizons rather than being happy with what they have. In fact, the love of novelty is good. It is a powerful motivation to move toward a God who is both “ever ancient” and also “ever new.”

Think about the last time you worked really hard on a gift for someone. You didn’t just want them to say “Thank you,” and move on. You wanted them to take time to enjoy the gift, to notice all of the little nuances that you carefully considered when you put it together.

God, I think, is like that. He gives us the faculties to investigate his creation because he wants us to continually engage with the world he has made for us. He wants us to find the Easter eggs, to unlock the side quests and discover the secret characters.

Science makes us increasingly aware that God’s creativity is inconceivably effusive. From nebulae to subatomic particles, he is forever brooding over the face of the deep and bringing forth novelties in abundance.

Sense of curiosity

So novelty isn’t the problem. The problem is that we don’t access it in a useful way. We’re conditioned to seek novelty by buying the new, improved iPhone or the latest and greatest in laundry detergent. The problem is that the new iPhone really isn’t very different from the old one, and getting your whites even whiter is a pretty lackluster ambition for someone made in the image and likeness of God.

Wonder involves deliberate engagement with the world, and this takes effort. When we’re lured into making that effort over and over again without any significant payoff, we feel exhausted. This is why if you’re surfing the Internet and you keep getting drawn in by click-baiting, you feed your brain new information for hours and end up feeling bored and drained. Click-baiting promises something new and interesting, but most of the time it delivers predictable banality.

Wonder can be kindled by new information, but only if the information expands your perception of reality. This kind of information increases the number of active objects available for you to interact with and, thus, increases the number of possible interactions you can have with your world.

For example, let’s say I learn the names of different types of rock and study the processes by which they’re formed. Suddenly the granite rock-faces that I drive by every day will become interesting. When I’m on a long trip, I may see a rare limestone formation and stop to explore. Or if I’m digging in the garden, I might find a piece of volcanic glass and imagine it being borne along in the belly of an ancient glacier.

A world reborn

The novelty that engages our sense of wonder is often not the novelty of a new thing, but the novelty of an old thing we see again with fresh eyes. This experience of finding new and exciting meanings stimulates our sense of awe because it is a microcosm of the Resurrection.

When Christ rose from the dead, he did not become a different person. Rather, he was transformed and made new — so much so that it took a while for his closest friends to recognize him.

Wonder draws us toward the mystery of a world reborn. We see it on the faces of the shepherds as they draw near to the stable at Bethlehem. On that day, they saw angelic hosts and heard the singing of the choirs of heaven. These things were truly novel in the sense that the shepherds had never seen or heard anything like them before. Yet the heavenly apparitions were not the miracle.

The miracle was something entirely familiar: a newborn infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a bed of straw.

The shepherds who had lived all their lives in Bethlehem had probably walked thousands of times past the manger where he lay. It was a simple scene: an ordinary looking woman drawing an ordinary looking baby to her breast on a winter’s night.

And it renewed the face of the earth.

10 Opportunities for Wonder

We often feel so busy that we don’t have time for new things. Here are some simple strategies for finding novelty in the ordinary:

Break your routine: It doesn’t have to be a big break. Drive a di†fferent route. Shop at a diff†erent grocery store. Listen to a new kind of music.

Follow your intuition: We often ignore our intuition because we can’t figure out how to make sense of it. That’s the point. Intuition guides us toward unexpected graces.

Make unscheduled time: The Lord works in mysterious ways. If we plot out our entire lives in advance, we don’t leave time for God to surprise us.

Take risks: Wonder is strongly linked to our sense of not being in control, of being part of something much greater than ourselves.

Be less critical: Constant judgment and evaluation inhibits wonder and gratitude. Give the world the benefit of the doubt, and look for God working in everything.

Break script: Every person you meet is just as complex and interesting as you are, but we generally interact in predictable, superficial ways. Take the time to open yourself to others.

Create: You don’t have to be an artist. Invent new games for your kids or new recipes. Dust off† your woodworking tools. Imitating God’s creativity makes us conscious of the wonders of creation.

Pursue your interests: Everyone has interests they neglect and habitual pleasures that have become less pleasurable over time. Use your leisure time to do something you enjoy but haven’t done in a while.

Expand your world: Learning doesn’t have to be time consuming. Load up your music player with lectures and listen while you do dishes or drive to work. Use social media to follow people who write about the things you never had time to study. We all click random links: let them lead to something genuinely interesting.

Rest: Frazzled, overworked people lack energy to take an interest in things. We often work longer hours than we need to and stay up pumping our brains full of hollow entertainment. You’ll get more out of life if you make time for sleep, prayer and silence.


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