The trouble with most of us isn’t active or deliberate wickedness; it’s lethargy, absence of caring, lack of involvement in life. To keep our bodies comfortable and well-fed and entertained seems to be all that matters. But the more successful we are at this, the more entombed the soul becomes in solid, immovable flesh.  We no longer hear the distant trumpet and go toward it; we listen to the pipes of Pan and fall asleep. How can I rouse my people and make them yearn for something more than pleasant, socially acceptable ways of escaping from life?  How can I make them want to thrust forward into the unknown, into the world of testing and trusting their own spirit? Oh, how I wish I knew!

– Quoted by Arthur Gordon in Touched by Wonder.


Oh Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what are mortals that you are mindful of them, the children of mortals that you care for them?

–  Psalm 8, verses 1, 3-4.

As you do not know how the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.

Ecclesiastes 11:5.

 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.

Psalm 111:10.

 Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.

I Corinthians 4:1.


 Although Homo sapiens (“wise human”) may be too self-congratulatory, there is no doubt that we are Homo admirans, the “wondering human.”

– The Seven Pillars of Creation, p. 4.

“Mystery,” of course, can mean anything from the incomprehensible born of ignorance to the surprising anomaly that invites explanation.  For me, mystery inspires awe and inquiry. Examples of mystery are the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics,” the remarkable intelligibility of nature, something instead of nothing, the emergence of life, and God’s love for the world.  Mystery acknowledges that, while we cannot know absolutely everything about say, a particular ecosystem, there is nothing to stop us from knowing more about it, infinitely so. Mystery recognizes the provisional nature of our explanations and the inexhaustibility of our investigations.  The world will always be more than we know. Mystery is being grasped by something larger than ourselves, ever compelling us to stretch, rather than limit, the horizons of our awareness. Under the rubric of wonder, mystery has its place alongside understanding.

ibid. p. 5.


Religion as a word points essentially, I think, to that area of human experience where in one way or another man happens upon mystery as a summons to pilgrimage, a come-all-ye; where he is led to suspect the reality of splendors that he cannot name; where he senses meanings no less overwhelming because they can only be hinted at in myths and rituals, in foolish, left-handed games and cloudy novels; where in great laughter perhaps and certain silences he glimpses a destination that he can never know fully until he reaches it.

The Alphabet of Grace, p. 75.

 If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and a preacher, it would be something like this:  Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.

Listening to Your Life, p. 2.

There are mysteries which you can solve by taking thought.  For instance, a murder mystery whose mysteriousness must be dispelled in order for the truth to be known.

There are other mysteries which do not conceal a truth to think your way to but whose truth is itself the mystery.  The mystery of your self, for example. The more you try to fathom it, the more fathomless it is revealed to be. No matter how much of your self you are able to objectify and examine, the quintessential, living part of yourself will always elude you, i.e., the part that is conducting the examination.  Thus you do not solve the mystery, you live the mystery. And you do that not by fully knowing yourself but by fully being yourself.

To say that God is a mystery is to say that you can never nail him down.  Even on Christ the nails proved ultimately ineffective.

Wishful Thinking, p. 76.


But most of the preaching I hear in the contemporary church is so bereft of the kind of astonishment – so shriveled down to platitudes about life enhancement and moral uplift, so vapidly “spiritual,” so un-earthy, so unlike the Jesus whose words leap like grasshoppers and devour like fire – that it’s too tame to raise even a single hair… We are in a war between dullness and astonishment.

The Astonished Heart, pp. 119-120.


This at least seems to me the main problem for philosophers, and is in a manner the main problem of this book.  How can we contrive to be at once astonished at the world and yet at home in it? … How can this world give us at once the fascination of a strange town and the comfort and honour of being our own town? … We need so to view the world as to combine an idea of wonder and an idea of welcome.  We need to be happy in this wonderland without once being merely comfortable.

– Orthodoxy, pp. 4-5.

Mysticism keeps men sane.  As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity.

– Ibid, p. 24.

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them.

– ibid. p. 61

Here dies another day
During which I have had eyes, ears, hands
And the great world round me;
And with tomorrow begins another.
Why am I allowed two?

– Evening


The hypertext generation has made it excruciatingly clear that evangelization must aim for Christian discernment, not simply Christian information.  Believing in God is not the issue; believing God matters is the issue.  The signature quality of adolescence is no longer lawlessness, but awelessness.  Inundated with options and the stress that comes from having to choose among them, contemporary adolescents have lost their compass to the stars, have forgotten the way that points to transcendence.  With so much vying for young people’s finite attention, the responsibility of choosing among endless alternatives is overwhelming, and the path to transcendence disappears beneath a bramble of competing claims on the soul.  So go ahead, youth say to the church, impress me. When everything is true, nothing is true. Whatever.

– The Godbearing Life, p. 15.


If we cannot recover a sense of the numinous, of the sheer mystery of transendence-in-our-midst, our worship will satisfy other needs perhaps, but not the spiritual hunger that makes authentic worship unique.

– Quoted by C. Kirk Hadaway and David Roozen in Rerouting the Protestant Mainstream, p. 86.

GATES OF PRAYER (A Jewish Prayerbook)


Days pass and the years vanish, and we walk sightless among miracles.  Lord, fill our eyes with seeing and our minds with knowing; let there be moments when Your Presence, like lightning, illumines the darkness in which we walk.

Help us to see, wherever we gaze, that the bush burns unconsumed.

And we, clay touched by God, will reach out for holiness, and exclaim in wonder:

How filled with awe is this place, and we did not know it!

Blessed is the Eternal One, the holy God!

–  p. 170.


The universe was brought forth by an inexhaustible creative power.  It pours out torrents of energy still. Awesome and wondrous and mysterious, it is the source of our being.

Matter was formed out of chaos.  Time passed, time beyond imagining; matter crossed a boundary and became life.  Time passed, and life gave birth to – us!

Our universe is being formed at every moment.  We too are not yet grown to full height. But ours is a special gift, for a special task: to help in our own shaping.  For we were made to be free: free to love or to hate, free to destroy or to create.

We are like mountain climbers on a perilous ascent.  Often we stumble; sometimes it seems we may dash ourselves on the rocks below.  But there is hope, for dimly we have seen a vision, and felt a presence, and faintly heard a voice not ours.

The blazing stars, particles too small to see, the smile of children, the eyes of lovers, melody filling the soul, a flood of joy surprising the heart, mystery at the core of the plainest things – all tell us that we are not alone.  They open our eyes to the vision that steadies and sustains us.

– p. 217.


Were the sun to rise but once a year, we would all cry out:
How great are Your works, O God, and how glorious!  Our hymns would rise up, our thanks would ascend. O God, Your wonders are endless, yet we do not see!
Give us new eyes, O God; restore our childhood sense of wonder.
Then we shall explore the richness of our being: we shall taste ecstasy and sorrow, know mystery and revelation.
Give us, O God, vision to see the world anew.
And we will give thanks; as we have been blessed, so shall we give blessing.
Give us understanding, O God; help us to know we are blessed.

– pp. 361-362


God does not die on the day we cease to believe in a personal  deity, but we die on the day when our lives cease to be illumined by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder, the source of which is beyond all reason.

– Markings (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1964) p. 56.


At stake here is what we usually call metaphysics or the construction of myth.  The human situation I have just alluded to is one in which persons are challenged to put together frameworks of meaning that can encompass what they know, what they believe they must do, what they must obey, and what strikes awe in their hearts and minds.

Zygon, June 1996, Vol. 31, Number 2.


The surest way to suppress our ability to understand the meaning of God and the importance of worship is to take things for granted.  Indifference to the sublime wonder of living is the root of sin.

– Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism, (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1955) p. 43.

The profound and perpetual awareness of the wonder of being has become a part of the religious consciousness of the Jew. Three times a day we pray:

We thank Thee…

For Thy miracles which are daily with us,

For Thy continual marvels…

We are trained in maintaining our sense of wonder by uttering a prayer before the enjoyment of food.  Each time we are about to drink a glass of water, we remind ourselves of the eternal mystery of creation, “Blessed be Thou…by Whose word all things come into being.”  A trivial act and a reference to the supreme miracle…. This is one of the goals of the Jewish way of living: to experience commonplace deeds as spiritual adventures, to feel the hidden love and wisdom of all things.

– Ibid. pp. 48-49

Awe, in this sense, is more than an emotion; it is a way of understanding.  Awe is itself an act of insight into meaning greater than ourselves.  The meaning of awe is to realize that life takes place under wide horizons, horizons that range beyond the span of an individual life or even the life of a nation, a generation, or an era.  Awe enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine, to sense in small things the beginning of infinite significance, to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple.

ibid. pp.74-75 (Emphasis added)

According to the Bible the principal religious virtue is yirah.  What is the nature of yirah?  The word has two meanings: fear and awe.  Fear is the anticipation and expectation of evil or pain, as contrasted with hope which is the anticipation of good.  Awe, on the other hand, is the sense of wonder and humility inspired by the sublime or felt in the presence of mystery.  Awe, unlike fear, does not make us shrink from the awe-inspiring object, but on the contrary, draws us near to it. This is why awe is compatible with both love and joy.

ibid. pp.76-77

The sense of wonder and transcendence must not become “a cushion for the lazy intellect.”  It must not be a substitute for analysis where analysis is possible; it must not stifle doubt where doubt is legitimate.  It must, however, remain a constant awareness if man is to remain true to the dignity of God’s creation, because such awareness is the spring of all creative thinking.

ibid. p. 51.

To pray is to take notice of the wonder, to regain a sense of the mystery that animates all beings, the divine margin in all attainments.  Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living. It is all we can offer in return for the mystery by which we live.

Man’s Quest for God.  p. 5.

In every mind there is an enormous store of not-knowing, of being puzzled, of wonder, of radical amazement.

Man’s Quest for God, p. 139.


“The way to faith,” writes Abraham Heschel, “leads through acts of wonder and radical amazement.  Awe precedes faith; it is the root of faith. We must grow in awe in order to reach faith. We must be guided by awe to be worthy of faith.”  As we have seen, we are seriously impoverished in our longings, and because of this our capacity for awe and wonder is impaired. We live in a time when faith is thin, because our aching for what is above and beyond us has been anaesthetized and our capacity for wonder reduced to clever tricks.

Passion for Pilgrimage, pp. 145-146.


In a real sense everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see. Plato was right: “The visible is a shadow cast by the invisible.” And so God is still around. All of our knowledge, all of our developments, cannot diminish his being one iota. These new advances have banished God neither from the microcosmic compass of the atom nor from the vast, unfathomable ranges of interstellar space. The more we learn about this universe, the more mysterious and awesome it becomes. God is still here.

– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “The Measure of a Man” page 54.


Jewish tradition says that the splitting of the Red Sea was the greatest miracle ever performed.  It was so extraordinary that on that day even a common servant beheld more than all the miracles beheld by Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel combined.  And yet we have one midrash that mentions two Israelites, Reuven and Shimon, who had a different experience.

Apparently the bottom of the sea, though safe to walk on, was not completely dry but a little muddy, like a beach at low tide. Reuven stepped into it and curled his lip. “What is this muck?”

Shimon scowled, “There’s mud all over the place!”

“This is just like the slime pits of Egypt!” replied Reuven.

“What’s the difference?”  Complained Shimon. “Mud here, mud there; it’s all the same.”

And so it went for the two of them, grumbling all the way across the bottom of the sea.  And, because they never once looked up, they never understood why on the distant shore, everyone else was singing songs of praise. For Reuven and Shimon the miracle never happened.

(Shemot Rabba 24.1)

Call it the difference between epistemology and piety.  In epistemology if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear, it may or may not make a sound.  In piety if a miracle happens and no one notices, it did not happen. Each miracle requires at least one person to experience the miracle, even if, like Jacob, only in retrospect.

Now Jacob begins to ponder the events of his life in a new way.  A dimension of what has come to be called “the spiritual” now lies open.  “If God was here, and I didn’t know, then perhaps God has been other places also.”

– Eyes Remade for Wonder, pp. 11 – 12.


Probably the worst thing that has happened to our understanding of reality has been our acceptance of ourselves as consumers.  Our greed is consuming the planet, so that we may quite easily kill this beautiful earth by daily pollution without ever having nuclear warfare.  Sex without love consumes, making another person an object, not a subject.  Can we change our vocabulary and our thinking?  To do so may well be a matter of life and death.  Consumers do not understand that we must live not by greed and self-indulgence but by observing and contemplating the wonder of God’s universe as it is continually being revealed to us.

Glimpses of Grace, pp. 98-99.


We daily have to make choices between good and evil, and it is not always easy, or even possible, to tell the difference between the two.  Whenever we make a choice of action, the first thing to ask ourselves is whether it is creative or destructive. Will it heal, or will it wound?  Are we doing something to make ourselves look big and brave, or because it is truly needed? Do we know the answers to these questions? Not always, but we will never know unless we ask them.  And we will never dare to ask them if we close ourselves off from wonder.

When I need a dose of wonder I wait for a clear night and go look for the stars.  In the city I see only a few, but only a few are needed. In the country the great river of the Milky Way streams across the sky, and I know that our planet is a small part of that river of stars, and my pain of separation is healed.

Dis-aster makes me think of dis-grace.  Often the wonder of the stars is enough to return me to God’s loving grace.

ibid. pp. 65-66.


Oh, I am in awe of the maker of galaxies and geese, stars and starfish, mercury and men (male and female).  Sometimes it is rapturous awe; sometimes it is the numinous dread Jacob felt. Sometimes it is the humble awe of knowing that ultimately I belong to God, to the Maker whose thumb print is on each one of us.  And that is blessing.

ibid.  P. 196.


When we are stunned to the place beyond words, we’re finally starting to get somewhere. It is so much more comfortable to think that we know what it all means, what to expect and how it all hangs together. When we are stunned to a place beyond words, when an aspect of life takes us away from being able to chip away at something until it’s down to a manageable size and then to file it nicely away, when all we can say in response is “Wow,” that’s a prayer.

Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. p. 73.

What can we say beyond Wow, in the presence of glorious art, in music so magnificent that it can’t have originated solely on this side of things? Wonder takes our breath away, and makes room for new breath. That’s why they call it breathtaking. We’re individuals in time and space who are often gravely lost, and then miraculously, in art, found.

ibid. pp. 81-82.

As a tiny little control freak, I want to understand the power of Wow, so I can organize and control it, and up its rate and frequency. But I can’t. I can only feel it and acknowledge that it is here once again. Wow.

ibid. p. 84.


At the heart of our existence is a mystery — and various spiritual traditions have come into existence as a response to this primary mystery — the mystery that there is anything at all, the mystery that the universe seems to have a consciousness and a meaning that transcends our daily experience.

It is the reality of human experience that at our core we respond to the universe with a sense of awe and wonder at creation. We are dazzled by the incomprehensible fact of being itself. Through history, we have responded to this sense of awe and wonder with song, with prayers, with dance, with theology, with philosophy, with great art and architecture, with a sense of humility and a recognition that there is something that is both part of us and beyond us, something which we cannot name or control. It is from this sense of awe that the most profound wisdom springs. Abraham Joshua Heschel used to teach a very profound notion about wisdom: wisdom may not come from accumulating facts or information about how things work or how things can be made to work. This kind of information has its place — in Habermas’ terms it is knowledge that satisfies a particular kind of human interest: the interest in control and domination. But there is an aspect of the world that cannot be controlled or dominated — and that is where wisdom begins. “Humanity,” Heschel used to say, “will not perish from want of information, but from a want of appreciation.”

– “The State of the Spirit” Tikkun, May/June 2002.


In a way, I quite understand why some people are put off by Theology.  I remember once when I had been giving a talk to the R.A.F., an old, hard-bitten officer got up and said, “I’ve no use for all that stuff.  But, mind you, I’m a religious man too. I know there’s a God.  I’ve felt him; out alone in the desert at night: the tremendous mystery.  And that’s just why I don’t believe all your neat little dogmas and formulas about him.  To anyone who’s met the real thing they all seem so petty and pedantic and unreal!” Now in a sense I quite agreed with that man.  I think he had probably had a real experience of God in the desert. And when he turned from that experience to the Christian creeds, I think he really was turning from something real to something less real.  In the same way, if a man has once looked at the Atlantic from the beach, and then goes and looks at a map of the Atlantic, he is turning from something real to something less real: turning from real waves to a bit of coloured paper.  But here comes the point. The map is admittedly only coloured paper, but there are two things you have to remember about it. In the first place, it is based on what hundreds and thousands of people have found out by sailing the real Atlantic.  In that way it has behind it masses of experience just as real as the one you could have from the beach; only, while yours would be a single isolated glimpse, the map fits all those different experiences together. In the second place, if you want to go anywhere the map is absolutely necessary.  As long as you are content with walks on the beach, your own glimpses are far more fun than looking at a map. But the map is going to be more use than walks on the beach if you want to get to America.

Mere Christianity, pp. 119-120.


Distinguish between the Mysterious and the Problematic.  A problem is something met with which bars my passage. It is before me in its entirety.  A mystery, on the other hand, is something in which I find myself caught up, and whose essence is therefore not to be before me in its entirety.  It is as though in this province the distinction between in me and before me loses its meaning.

A problem is a temporary hindrance, and a proper response to it is to attempt to remove it.  The mysterious is quite different: it does not so much confront me, as envelop me, draw me into itself; it is not a temporary barrier, but a permanent focus of my attention.  They do overlap, though, or at least often appear to do so; for what confronts me as a puzzle, a riddle, may be either a genuine mystery, or simply a problem. Sometimes we are presented with a problem, the solution of which precipitates us into mystery…Marcel speaks of ‘the transition from problem to mystery.  There is an ascending scale here; a problem conceals a mystery in so far as it is capable of awakening ontological overtones (the problem of survival for instance).

For it is not a matter of solving a mystery, but of participating in it.

Discerning the Mystery, (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1983) pp. 68-69.

In recent years several theologians have actually returned to the idea that the notion of mystery lies at the heart of Christian theology.  Karl Barth in his Church Dogmatics sees the mystery of God’s self-revelation as the heart of Christian theology.  He speaks of a God who reveals himself as mystery, who makes himself known as the One who is Unknowable: ‘God himself veils Himself and in the very process — which is why we should not dream of intruding into the mystery – unveils himself.’

This unveiling through veiling takes place in the Incarnation: so the section of the Church Dogmatics on the Incarnation is called ‘The Mystery of Revelation’.  Karl Rahner, too, speaks in very similar terms. Theology is not concerned with the elucidation of mysteries which will eventually be revealed in the beatific vision — mysteries reduced to what one might call eschatological problems.  Rather, theology is concerned with the mystery of God, the mystery of the triune God who gives himself to us in love in the Incarnation of the Son. Rahner argues that there are three fundamental mysteries which lie at the heart of Christian theology; the mysteries of the Trinity, of the Incarnation, and of the divinization of man in grace and glory.  He concludes his discussion by saying, ‘There are these three mysteries in Christianity, no more and no fewer, and the three mysteries affirm the same thing: that God has imparted himself to us through Jesus Christ in his Spirit as he is in himself, so that the inexpressible nameless mystery which reigns in us and over us should be in itself the immediate blessedness of the spirit which knows, and transforms itself into love.’

The notion that Christian theology is to be seen as concerned with the mystery of God, the trinitarian God who loved us in Christ and calls us to participate in the mystery which he is, suggests to me that the main concern of theology is not so much to elucidate anything, as to prevent us, the Church, from dissolving the mystery that lies at the heart of the faith – dissolving it, or missing it altogether, by failing truly to engage with it.  And this is what the heresies have been seen to do, and why they have been condemned.

ibid. pp. 70-71.

And as Josef Pieper remarks,’the unique and original relation to being that Plato calls “theoria” can only be realized in its pure state through the sense of wonder, in that purely receptive attitude to reality, undisturbed and unsullied by the interjection of the will’, and Pieper goes on to underline the place of wonder in philosophy.  It is wonder at the mystery of being, at the fact that things are at all: wonder expressed in the age-old cry that Heidegger calls the basic metaphysical question: ‘Why, after all, should there be such a thing as being? Why not just nothing?’ Such a capacity for wonder can be warped or distorted in various ways. A dulled sensibility will not feel wonder at the mystery of everyday being it will need the unusual, the sensational, to arouse a sense of wonder.  Wonder shakes a man, it disturbs him. And it is this negative, unsettling effect which is all that philosophy since Descartes has noticed. Wonder becomes reduced to doubt, the doubt that threatens a man’s intellectual being: if for Socrates wonder was the beginning of philosophy, for Descartes and his followers it is doubt that is the beginning of philosophy.

But, asks Pieper, ‘does the true sense of wonder really lie in uprooting the mind and plunging it into doubt?  ‘The innermost meaning of wonder is fulfilled in a deepened sense of mystery.’ Doubt is the beginning of philosophy which ends up as true knowledge when doubt has been left behind.  Pieper points out how different this is from the traditional concept of philosophy, which was precisely philo-sophia.  The inner form of philosophizing is virtually identical with the inner form of wonder.’

ibid. pp. 142-144.


If I were to sum up what I have learned about evangelism from Alice and so many people like here in the last ten years, here is what I would say: Postmodern people don’t want a God shrunken to fit modern tastes.  More Ready than You Realize, p.52.

I simply tried to help people imagine what it would be like to live in a world that really was God’s creation.  In such a world, I suggested, there is nothing purely “objective” – meaning there is nothing that does not have a personal value attached to it. Why?  Because if God is Creator, and God has feelings for everything God has made, then every atom in the universe is not a neutral objective object; rather it is the artwork – beloved artwork – of a Creator who values every square centimeter of space, every moment in time, every quark, muon, gluon, neutrino, and proton; every whale, sparrow, chipmunk, and child.  In other words, aw we wander through the universe, we are not just encountering meaningless stuff; rather we are walking through an art gallery, filled with objects full of meaning, expressiveness, revelation of the Creator’s heart, intelligence, compassion and whimsy.

Ibid. p. 94.

The beauty of “In the beginning God created” should make us should make us giddy with joy and speechless with wonder for decades, leaving us little time to argue over … over stuff I don’t even want to dignify by mentioning here.  Ibid. p.95.

Gregory of Nyssa of the fourth century once said, “Concepts create idols. Only wonder understands.”  Martin Luther reputedly reflected this realization: “If I could understand one grain of wheat, I would die of wonder.”

ibid. p. 146.


The Greek philosophers  therefore called the deepest ground of knowing wonder.  In wonder the senses are opened for the immediate impression of the world.  In wonder the things perceived penetrate the sense fresh and unfiltered. They impose themselves on us.  They make and impression on us and we are impressed. In wonder, things are perceived for what they are for the first time.

– God for a Secular Society, p.150.

People who can no loner be astonished, people who have got used to everything, people who perceive only as a matter of routine and react accordingly:  people who live like this let reality pass them by. Every chance is singular and unique. That is its nature….The people who have kept their original capacity for wonder sense the uniqueness of the moment.

ibid. p.150.

Reality is always more surprising than we are capable of imagining. “Concepts create idols, only wonder understands,” said the wise Gregory of Nyssa.  People whose unique character we respect continue to astonish us, and our wonder opens up the freedom for new future possibilities in our community with them. The wonders of nature too still astonish us, if in our busyness we can pause and sink into contemplation of a flower or a tree or a sunset. But the most astonishing thing of all seems to me to be the ground of the “being-there” of all things, the ground whom we have to thank for there being anything there at all. The One we call God eludes our ideas, which nail him down, and our concepts which try to bring him within our grasp; and yet he is closer to us than ourselves — interior intimo meo, as Augustine knew. For “in him we live and move and have our being”. In “the darkness of the lived moment” we become aware of God’s presence.  Wonder is the inexhaustible foundation of our community with each other, with nature, with God. Wonder is the beginning of every new experience and the ground of our creative expectation of the new day.

ibid. pp. 151-152.


We have allowed silence to become a gift forgotten, one we only consent to unwrap when all of our alternative bows and strings have been unraveled, and our diversions have been utterly played out. Our inability to be silent puts our minds and our souls at a disadvantage, because it robs us of the ability to wonder, and if we are not wondering at the impossible perfection of the world in its creation — if we are not wondering at spinning atoms and Incarnations — then we are lost to humility, and to experiencing gratitude.

And, without gratitude, we cannot develop a reasoned capacity for joy.

One of the most attractive things about G.K. Chesterton was the unending sense of surprised delight he had for all creation, the world and everything in it. He found newspaper ink to be as wonderful as beach glass, which — it went without saying — was as marvelous to him as any good cigar. He was as awe-struck and grateful for the world as a teenager in love, and he wondered about the unconditional gift of days that God had given him. He asked with astonishment, “Why am I allowed two?” — a great question in an age where we expect unending, medically-engineered days.

Chesterton was joyful, because he was grateful; he was grateful because even within his busy life, he was allowed the leisure of silence, with which gift, he was able to wonder. And, as St. Gregory of Nyssa is credited with saying, “only wonder leads to knowing.”

If we cannot wonder, how can we presume to know the Timeless and Eternal God? Without wonder, how may we know ourselves?

– Unwrap the Silence, First Things, December 28, 2010.


The absolute minimum conditions for worship are a sense of mystery and an admission of pain.

– Quoted by Peter Marty in The Lutheran, January 2011, p.3.


We cover our deep ignorance with words, but we are ashamed to wonder, we are afraid to whisper “mystery.”

The Knowledge of the Holy, p. 26.


If [human] craving for the mysterious, the wonderful, the supernatural, be not fed on true religion, it will feed itself on the garbage of any superstition that is offered to it.

– Quoted by Madeleine L’Engle in A Circle of Quiet, p. 111.


The most critical issue facings Christians is not abortion, pornography, the disintegration of family, moral absolutes, MTV, drugs, racism, sexuality, or school prayer.  The critical issue today is dullness.  We have lost our astonishment.

Dangerous Wonder, p. 23.

Immorality is more than adultery and dishonesty; it is living drab, colorless, dreary, stale, unimaginative lives.  The greatest enemy of Christianity may be people who say they believe in Jesus but who are no longer astonished and amazed.  Jesus Christ came to rescue us from listlessness as well as lostness; He came to save us from flat souls as well as corrupted souls.

ibid. p. 24.

Tameness is not an option. Take surprise out of faith and all that is left is dry and dead religion. Take away mystery from the gospel and all that is left is frozen and petrified dogma. Lose your awe of God and you are left with an impotent deity. Abandon astonishment and you are left with meaningless piety.

ibid. p. 28

Alan Jones says that priests “are not so much people with answers as ones who guard the important questions and keep them alive.” The church exists to guard the important questions! Keep them alive! When the questions are kept alive, our souls have a chance of staying alive. The church should be full of Christians who seek questions rather than answers, mystery instead of solutions, wonder instead of explanations.

ibid. p. 42.