O Lord, our Lord,Psalm 8
How majestic your name in all the earth,
When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the starts, which You have ordained;
What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?
Yet, You have made him a little lower than God,
And You crown him with glory and majesty.
Wonder has been defined by Catherine L’Ecuyer as “an inner desire to learn that awaits reality in order to be awakened.” It is innate in the human person, a gift of God, deeply embedded within us for a purpose, and that purpose is to inspire inquiry that leads to understanding. Wonder, when it is encouraged in childhood, leads to joy in discovery and establishes an enduring love for the pursuit of learning.
The passage from Psalm 8 above points to two sources of wonder that lead to the most important understandings: an understanding of ourselves, and of God through creation. These two domains, creation and the human person, are the fonts of wonder and inquiry upon which the western philosophical tradition was developed, and today still provide the foundation of a classical curriculum.
When children are free to wonder at the magnificence of creation, they want to understand its order, an order that can be understood through math and science. As they mature, they wonder what makes them unique in creation and begin to question the mystery of what it means to be human. They study history, read great literature, and are moved by the beauty of fine art and music. Through the humanities, they come to a better understanding, as St. John Paul II said, of “the greatness, dignity, and value that belong to [their] humanity” (Redemptor Hominis #10).
Wonder is one of the hallmarks of the Regina Academies. In Catholic classical schools wonder is encouraged as an essential part of learning. It is made the center of a child’s motivation. Through wonder students are guided to a greater understanding of themselves as God’s unique creation, and to the magnificent design of the world around them.
As St. Paul said in his letter to the Romans, “Ever since the creation of the world, [God’s] invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made” (Rom 1:20). Creation, then, is the first teacher of young students who through its beauty are led to wonder. As Catherine L’Ecuyer writes, “Beauty is what triggers wonder.”
Wonder and the Transcendentals
Perhaps one of the greatest tragedies of our current age is the rapid increase of the Nones, now around 26% of the U.S. population and mostly under 30 years old. These are individuals who are either non-believers or indifferent to religious belief. They seem to have lost any sense that creation, and indeed they themselves, possess a meaning that transcends their own subjective vision. Without wonder and meaning they become apathetic. Like the prisoners in Plato’s cave, they live life seeing only shadows of reality. Without a transcendent vision of themselves or the world around them, they are impoverished, trapped in their subjective darkness. Beauty, for them, is only skin deep.
Philosophers and theologians have identified three properties of being they have called the transcendentals. They are truth, goodness, and beauty. Like the Holy Trinity, these three are in being one, so where one is the others are as well. In fact, they have been related to the three areas of human study through which we come to know God: science (truth), the arts (beauty), and religion (goodness). The Catholic Church teaches that God himself is truth, goodness, and beauty and so to recognize these in their purity is to recognize God.
A Catholic classical education guides children to seek the good, true, and beautiful through wonder. Again, it is beauty that first triggers wonder and leads to the pursuit of the good and the true. As St. Augustine reflected upon his conversion to Christianity, he looked in wonder at God’s love, and penned his most memorable quote:
“Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!”
Children are naturally inquisitive. Every parent knows the stage in a child’s development when they begin to ask “Why?” Their constant questioning is their desire to make sense of the world around them.
Nones were all once children who wondered at the meaning of the world around them. Somehow wonder was lost or discouraged, perhaps by schools that failed to provide space for wonder or gave responses to their questions about themselves and the world about them that were not compatible with either faith or reason.
Our culture is full of many things that can stifle wonder. Our senses are easily overwhelmed by the ubiquitous smartphone and other technology, busyness, anxiety, stress, questions about the future. We can become numbed by routine – even by routine in school. We can become discouraged by current events and a loose hope.
The Regina Academies are committed to wonder. Our schools are technology free for many reasons, but one is that technology itself can be a distraction that stifles wonder. It overstimulates the senses, and places distance between us and other sources of wonder, namely peers, teachers, and good conversation.
Let us pray for our children that like St. Augustine, they are awakened to wonder at the beauty of God and that their wonder never ceases leading them ever closer to him.
*Header Image: Among the Sierra Nevada, California, by Albert Bierstadt, 1868. Public domain.