A few months ago I mentioned something about wonder, and how we need more of it in our lives generally, and in our reading of scripture, books, or in our “reading” of anything, really. A couple more thingies on wonder, then…
First, from Eugene Peterson’s Living the Resurrection: The Risen Christ in Everyday Life, a really great quote
Taken out of the context of resurrection wonder, any prayer soon becomes an act of idolatry–reducing God to what we can use for our purposes, however noble and useful.
Now, I’m familiar with the rebuke about turning God into a candy machine and the idolatry involved therein. But I had never thought of it in terms of a lack of wonder. That is, wonder is the only approach to God that doesn’t use him. Rather, as Peterson goes on to insist, wonder puts us where we can begin to live and work in such a way that is consonant with the new creation inaugurated in Christ’s resurrection, and inaugurated existentially and personally for us in our being raised with him to newness of life. Wonder, then, is the only countenance appropriate to living life coram Deo, before the face of God.
Note the Bynum quote that is the tagline for this blog. Throw in the resurrection, and it’s truer than I think she even realized.
We are a bookish lot. Even if we aren’t natively bookish, we are particularly susceptible to the temptation of wishing to appear bookish. And it’s very important to keep folks from thinking that you’re trying to appear bookish. Inauthentic bookishness is grounds for presbyterial censure around here. You can’t buy your way into being a real Presbie. Bookishness comes sola gratia, but it is a gift that must be worked out with fear and trembling.
In doing reading (!) for my M.A. thesis, I came across an amusing and haunting quote from one John Rastrick. As an adult and clergyman, he recounted in his memoirs the early-adolescent onset of his malignant booklust. Andrew Cambers and Michelle Wolfe describe Rastrick’s memoirs:
Rastrick’s manuscript account of school and university furthered the depiction of reading as both an act of sociability and a marker or spiritual identity. To convey his burgeoning boyhood identification with clerical mentors, Rastrick described seeing or sharing their books. He recounted a childhood glimpse of the local minister’s library as the formative moment in his clerical aspirations: ‘Seeing so many books and papers … The thoughts of his delightful study and pleasant conversation amongst his books so delighted me … that I wished and excessively desired that I might have but such as the same.’ Rastrick traced the origin of his desire to be a clergyman to a longing for religious texts and sociable reading: for ‘conversation amongst … books’
I’m sorry that I haven’t blogged lately; I’ve been busy cultivating my Presbyterian networks of sociability and shaping my spiritual identity by … you guessed it–reading, reading, reading. Presbyterians might be the only people in Christendom to frequently confuse booklust with a calling from God to pursue the ministry!
I’ve started my own blog. I hope you will visit often. I’m giving Manila Drive to Andy so that our separate blogs can fall into their own categories and not be so spotty. Please visit me at www.ellielaveer.wordpress.com where I will share my stories on motherhood, songwriting and whatever else seems appropriate to share.
I wrote a paper last semester on “The Hermeneutics of Wonder in the Gospel according to Luke”. I think it was pretty good. What inspired it was an essay I had read a year prior by a medievalist historian named Carolyn Walker Bynum, who, as its president, addressed the American Historical Association on the posture of “wonder” as the only appropriate interpretive and investigative stance of the true historian. I’d like to share some of my thoughts about wonder as the only appropriate interpretive and investigative stance of the true bible student. But let me start by excerpting the final lines of Bynum’s fabulous and inspiring—her wonderful—essay.
Am I then wrong to suggest that wonder is the special characteristic of the historian? I think not—if we understand admiratio in its medieval sense, as cognitive, perspectival, non-appropriative, and deeply respectful of the specificity of the world. There is something old-fashioned, almost absurd, in such an assertion, of course. Medieval philosophers and theologians emphasized wonder as a first step toward knowledge; we, in our postmodern anxiety, tend rather to emphasize how hard it is to know. Medieval devotional and hagiographical writers stressed wonder as the opposite of imitation or possession; we are aware that any response involves some appropriation. Medieval travelers and collectors of marvels argued that awe and dread are situated, perspectival; we share this perception and give credit to feminism and postcolonial theory for it, but we suspect that such awareness shatters the possibility of writing any coherent account of the world. Medieval chroniclers and occasional writers stressed the uniqueness of events rather than the trends they illustrated, their moral significance rather than their temporal causes; we fear that the particular is the trivial and that significance is merely the projection of our own values onto the past.
Nonetheless, I would argue, we write the best history when the specificity, the novelty, the awe-fulness, of what our sources render up bowls us over with its complexity and its significance. Our research is better when we move only cautiously to understanding, when fear that we may appropriate the “other” leads us not so much to writing about ourselves and our fears as to crafting our stories with attentive, wondering care. At our best, it is the “strange view of things” for which we strive—not least because, as Thomas Aquinas understood, admiratio has to do with teaching … Surely our job as teachers is to puzzle, confuse, and amaze. We must rear a new generation of students who will gaze in wonder at texts and artifacts, quick to puzzle over a translation, slow to project or to appropriate, quick to assume there is a significance, slow to generalize about it. Not only as scholars, then, but also as teachers, we must astonish and be astonished. For the flat, generalizing, presentist view of the past encapsulates it and makes it boring, whereas amazement yearns toward an understanding, a significance, that is always just a little beyond both our theories and our fears.
Every view of things that is not wonderful is false.
A handful of folks have suggested that we ought to post a list of the catechetical questions we have improvised for Deacon’s initial theological exercises. Finally, we’re complying with this request. And we do so gladly. We also hope that folks might have some suggestions as to how better to order the questions, and how the wording might be made more appropriate for the task. Now that our family church boasts two young catachumens, its time we subject our curriculum to the scrutiny of our peers and betters.
The questions are listed more or less in the order we came up with them. When he was about 18 mos. or so, we started to mix up the order, and to concentrate especially on the newest questions. It also helps–in the unlikely event of toddler boredom–if mom and papa probe one another with these questions. Faking perplexity and confusion may provoke a bit of healthy competition to bring your young catechumen back into orbit.
Question 1: Deacon, who made you?
Answer 1: God!
Q2: What else did God make?
A2: All things.
Q3: Why did God make you and all things?
A3: [For his] glory!
Q4: Who’s God’s Son?
Q5: Who’s your helper?
A5: Holy Ghost.
Q6: Where do we read about Jesus?
Q7: Where do we go on the Lord’s Day?
Q8: Are there more gods than one?
Q9: How many persons are there in the Godhead?
Q10: Where is God?
Q11: Can you see God?
Q12: Can God see you?
Q13: Who died on the cross?
Q14: Why did Jesus die?
A14: Our sins.
Q15: What did Jesus do on the third day?
A15: Rose again!
(And then, just to show off and look super pious and theologically astute in front of your friends…)
Q16: What is the instrumental cause of justification?
Owen Anthony Stager was born on Friday morning at 1:53am. He is a beautiful healthy little boy weighing in at 7lb 4oz and 20 inches tall.
We were so blessed to take him home on Saturday afternoon and are enjoying life as a family. Deacon loves to kiss and hold baby Owen. He is proud to be a big brother. Calvin, the dog, is really confused about everything and keeps following the baby around trying to get a good sniff. Andy is a very proud papa and I am one thankful mama.
Owen is resting on my chest right now at home, and the rest of our family is at evening church. Andy and I are working doubly hard right now managing 2 kids, and we hope to get into the rhythm before too long. We have the pleasure of having Andy’s parents in town until Wednesday, and my parents will come into town just after they leave.
Here is a picture of Owen’s first moments of life outside the womb:
I threw a few more pictures onto our Flickr account, so you can visit there to see more.