Finding Wonder In A World Bored By Entertainment
The Philosophical Act by Josef Pieper
Ever wonder? I mean truly wonder? To see something, to think something, as if for the first time? To see something in its common strangeness. To slow down in mind and body, and engage the fullness of your senses in the moment and place? To simply be as you see a thing and wonder that it is? This is a poor attempt to get at wonder. In the Catholic tradition, wonder (and awe) is a gift of the Holy Spirit. But you needn’t be Catholic to wonder. You need only be human (although I reserve the argument that to be the latter truly is to be the former).
Why wonder? It is at the essence of our being. It is what Man is made for, to wonder at all that was made for Man. There are times when I see a tree, I mean really see it. I understand what it is, how it forms, how it interacts with other trees, and how it is fitted into the rest of nature. But the longer I really look, the stranger the tree is. The less any knowledge I have about the tree satisfies. It is the mystery of the thing that satisfies by creating a desire to truly know. Stay with me. This is at the heart of each of us in those quiet, solitary moments when we are not trying to be, we just are. In a world that is pelting us with pictures, streaming ads and movies, noise and a never-ending busyness, we need wonder. But we have gotten lazy. And wonder, though the natural state of Man, does not come without effort. Certainly not when it is buried beneath the debris of a society bent on throwaway entertainments. Our entertainments increase because our boredom increases. Only the desire to know satisfies. And that is wonder. This is not curiosity. It is not just learning about things (and Googling them). These go toward acquiring knowledge. It is the desire to know that gives life to our days, to the things we see, to the mystery of being human. If we have this, the simple things will overwhelm us with wonder.
Josef Pieper, German Catholic Philosopher, was steeped in the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas. He was, however, a brilliant thinker in his own right. His discussions of leisure and art are accessible and transformative. If you want to see, truly see, read Josef Pieper.
“If someone needs the ‘unusual’ to be moved to astonishment, that person has lost the ability to respond rightly to the wondrous, the mirandum, of being. The hunger for the sensational, posing, as it may, in ‘bohemian garb,’ is an unmistakable sign of the loss of the true power of wonder, for a bourgeois-ized humanity.”