Living with Wonder

I recently read Josef Pieper’s Leisure: The Basis of Culture. It had been on my list for a while, and it’s one of those rich classics that immediately gets you asking yourself, why did it take me so long to read this?! I regularly find myself considering the implications of his central theme: we are made to be contemplative beings, people poised in a posture of wonder as we continually ponder God and ultimate reality—the most real, most essential things. In short, he describes “leisure” as the space that we cultivate—physical, mental, spiritual—to live in a way that allows such ongoing contemplation and wonder. 

In considering these thoughts, it is apparent to me how totally opposed life in the modern world is to this posture of contemplation. Our greater American culture is one of consumption; we consume products and people in an effort to ever increase our position in society to consume to a greater extent. Work and busy activity is unending, and true leisure is scarce. We live in a world that makes it hard to establish the space necessary to experience wonder; and if we do occasionally pivot to a contemplative stance, it is something that seems impossible to maintain. So often, this cultural description is the same for Catholics and other Christians, who have to actively reject the culture of consumerism and intentionally foster contemplative lives.   

Pieper describes what is required in order to live in wonder. He says, “The really human thing is to see the stars above the roof, to preserve our apprehension of the universality of things in the midst of the habits of daily life, and to see ‘the world’ above and beyond our immediate environment” (p. 122). This means that we have to find a way of living in the world that does not interfere with our contemplative stance, with our ability to “apprehend” the universal things of greatest importance to us as human beings. 

We need to be people that marvel at truth, beauty and goodness as we live in each moment of life and accomplish daily tasks. We must experience wonder not in spite of the experiences of everyday life and the world around us, but because of how we have positioned ourselves within the world and within those experiences. Pieper says that “the deeper aspects of reality are apprehended in the ordinary things of everyday life and not in a sphere cut off and segregated from it…” (p. 129).

With that in mind, have we positioned ourselves well? Are we able to live in a state that cultivates wonder, to take a contemplative stance? Can we say that we have set ourselves up to apprehend truth, beauty and goodness in all of the moments of our day? 

Or, have we failed to intentionally choose to be contemplative beings? Have we drifted with the current of our consumer culture, feeling the constant drive to accumulate and become more, rather than the freedom to bask in the leisurely rest of wonder—a wonder that only grows the more we saturate ourselves in it? 

I would offer a quick examination for assessing how well we are doing at living in wonder:

  • Where do we have silence? Where can it be expanded?
  • What are the sources of noise throughout our day that quench a contemplative heart?
  • What are distractions or oppositions to wonder? How could we remove them?
  • In what relationships are we invested, and do we have significant ones that spur us on to the contemplative life? Or do they make us feel that we need to acquire and become more?
  • What do we love? What we love we will worship. Are there inferior things that are stealing our sense of wonder?

These questions may help us start to assess the kind of lives we are living and what changes will need to take place for us to live in wonder. The more that we learn about God and the world he created the more we are aware of how little we actually know, which gets to the point of wonder, the point of a contemplative life. The end of wonder and contemplation is not the discovery of all the answers and the resolution of mysteries—quite the opposite. Living in wonder provides the constant reminder that we are finite, and God is infinite; that we can do so little, and He hung the stars. Wonder leads to love.

Podcast (August): Edgar Allan Poe

In 2020 The Catholic Reading Challenge is reading 24 different short stories by 12 different authors. Each month we will focus on one author, reading two stories by that author. During each of our bi-weekly podcast episodes we will discuss the stories in turn.

I will keep this short and sweet, so that you can get right to the stories for this month. We are excited to be reading Poe this month, and I think that you will find in our first story many interesting parallels to what we are experiencing as a society right now. I’m sure there will be lots to discuss.

You should be able to find plenty of PDF versions of these stories, or they should both be in any collection of Poe’s stories that you have on your shelves already at home. Enjoy!

Podcast (July): Guy de Maupassant

In 2020 The Catholic Reading Challenge is reading 24 different short stories by 12 different authors. Each month we will focus on one author, reading two stories by that author. During each of our bi-weekly podcast episodes we will discuss the stories in turn.

Perhaps some of you noticed, but we inadvertently switched our June and July authors. Oh well. We enjoyed Edward P. Jones’s stories in June, and now we are going to be spending July with Guy de Maupassant. If you have never read him you are in for a treat. He is undoubtably considered the best French short story author, and he is prolific—about 300 stories to his name!

He is a master at plot twists that seem to be accomplished with ease of style and economy of words; and for that his writing has been extremely influential for many other authors. We are reading two of his most famous stories: “The Necklace” (also titled “The Diamond Necklace”) and “Ball-of-Fat”, which is his first published short story and thought to be his best.

Themes of human vice and hypocrisy and the interaction of social classes are common in his stories. His criticisms of religion certainly come through as well. For these and many other reasons, not the least of which is the sheer enjoyment of his stories’s plots and his writing style, he is an important short story author to include on our list.

We recommend downloading this $0.99 Kindle version of his short stories (which includes both of the ones we are reading). We can’t wait to talk about these stories. Many of our listeners may find in him a new favorite author!