This week we visit another of the qualities we choose to embrace as followers in the footsteps of Saint Thorlak: Wonder.
From the earliest age, it is written, Thorlak Thorhallsson showed an unusually deep interest in everything. He was a contemplative by nature, slowly studying things around him and considering them from every possible angle, savoring the ideas and questions which came to mind as he did. It is no surprise that he was drawn to the Book of Psalms as a very young boy and learned to read by memorizing them. As an adult, and after his ordination, he would go on to write volumes of spiritual reflections and poetry of his own, tragically lost to fire and plunder over the centuries. Enough has been written about him to know that he lived this sense of wonder his entire life, and that his greatest desire was to share this wonder with everyone he could.
So, what is wonder, and how do we cultivate it as Saint Thorlak’s missionaries?
Wonder and contemplation go hand-in-hand, though one does not necessarily require the other. You could say that contemplation is the act itself, and wonder is the emotional sense of falling in love that contemplation brings about. Wonder is the delight in seeing how God and Creation each reveal the other, and the thrill of being invited into this mutual revelation. Wonder is the expression on a baby’s face at things the rest of us consider ordinary, like a ring of keys or a puff of dandelion seeds. Wonder is the excitement of observing something bigger than we are. Ideally, academic learning should begin with wonder – although as they get older, school children do not always see their subjects quite so romantically.
Our lifestyles generally do not allow for much wonder. We live in task-oriented times. We place more emphasis on information than the wonder it might evoke, and much of the information we face is not fodder for fancy. Check the weather, check the traffic, check our messages, check our appointments, check our agendas. Get driving directions, learn a set of facts, watch some viral videos, indignantly react to injustices and infringements highlighted in news feeds. Cheer on sports teams, enjoy photos of friends and family, check reviews to make a purchase, read the label on a box of ingredients. Information abounds. Wonder is in shorter and shorter supply.
Some people manage to live lives of wonder because they are naturally inclined that way. Most of us don’t. Most of us reach saturation somewhere during the day and spend the rest of our time coping with the stress of processing and handling the rest of the business on our minds before going to bed for the night. We unwind with fiction. We sleep. Perhaps we dream. And then we begin again.
Missionaries of Saint Thorlak strive toward contemplation in all that we do, but realistically, many of us struggle with finding wonder. But we mention it this week, not as a social commentary, but as a necessary element of spiritual nourishment. In that chain of our lives, with God at our origin, we can more easily recall God when we experience moments of wonder than when we plow through yards and yards of plain information. Thus, we have two choices, if we seek to actively experience God in our everyday moments. One, we can cultivate an interior sense of wonder, making a habit of looking for how God is revealed in the things around us and how the things around us are revealed in God. Two, we can cultivate an exterior sense of wonder, seeking to experience this mutual revelation through others.
One does not have to exclude the other.
In fact, those who live very rich spiritual lives do both.
Notice – especially for you readers who struggle with social anxiety, experience pain with eye contact, or who do not feel genuinely friendly – none of this requires any socializing or social activity. This is all about connection. One glance of yours, acknowledging another person’s presence, affirms their purpose. Accepting one glance from someone else – being noticed without need of any words – affirms yours.
Infused by wonder.
It looks different. When you see things that closely, that slowly, and see all that goes into something so insignificant… you feel wonder. You can’t help it.
Saint Thorlak had a horrible time socializing. It was not his forte. It was painful and stressful and intimidating. Yet people came to see him all the time, even when he was a young boy, to listen to him speak and ask questions. He didn’t resent it. He found that he didn’t like socializing… but he thrived in sharing wonder. One or two moments of imparting the love he felt toward God and Creation, and his cup was filled, good measure and flowing over. And so were the cups of those who visited him.
As an adult, Saint Thorlak served hundreds of people, day after day, as priest, abbot and bishop. He never learned to love socializing… but he was beloved, and he loved each person in his path, with the wonder of each one reflecting a different aspect of God to his hungry heart.
Hunger for wonder… and we can never be spiritually starved. Use Matthew 7:7-12 for confirmation.
RELATE: Share a moment of wonder with someone by telling them (or writing to them) something that delighted you. If you feel embarrassed doing this, treat it like an experiment and do it simply to observe their response. (Other people are as inexperienced with wonder as we are, so do not be discouraged if they seem unimpressed. Remember, it’s your wonder you are offering them a share in – not their approval you are seeking.)
May the power of Divine Love shine in and through my weakness, so that He might be glorified in and through me, and that in my weakness, His power may reach perfection. Through Christ Our Lord, AMEN.
Fr. Mark P. Nolette - Spiritual Director for the Mission of Saint Thorlak