Some years ago, a confrere of mine wrote a simple unpretentious poem which he dedicated to his 10 year old niece after she had given him a tour of the rather humble prairie town within which she lived. Entitled:  “To Sheryl, My Niece, Aged 10, On Guiding Me Through the Town of Virden” it reads like this:

I wish someone like you

could have guided Adam through

his first fact-finding tour

or his Father’s store

eons before

and named

much more than claimed

things as his own

or told us what they’re for.

 

We both know Adam’s handicap:

he had no niece

nor patience, nor the peace

to wait for one.

 

But this he could have done:

Called upon his little girl

to come along

not set out alone

to claim¡

and name

and number when his first call

clearly was to ponder and

to wonder

– Jerome Harry Hellman, OMI

 

These words echo Elizabeth Barrett Browning who once said that the earth is ablaze with the fire of God, but only those who see it take their shoes off – the rest sit around and pick blackberries! Her words themselves echo God’s words to Moses at the burning bush: “Take your shoes off because the ground you are standing on is holy ground.”

Ordinary ground is holy. There is more than enough mystery, secret, marvel, and miracle ablaze in ordinary reality. Unfortunately, most of the time we don’t see this because we stand before it trying to claim, name, number, psyche out, and render familiar … when our true task is, instead, to ponder and to wonder. This is an irreverence that fatigues the soul.

Irreverence lies at the root of all sin and taking for granted lies at the root of all irreverence. We begin to take things for granted at the precise moment when we no longer approach life with eyes of a 10 year old who can look at a small town and still see its rich secrets. It’s then, when pondering and wondering are lost, that we become bored, cynical, and restless with our lives and begin to feel that reality holds no secrets, that it is less than marvelous and worthwhile, that, as Margaret Atwood once put it, we’re stuck here in a country of thumbed streets and stale buildings, where there is nothing spectacular to see and the weather is ordinary and where love occurs in its pure form only on the cheaper of the souvenirs! At the root of boredom and cynicism lies the death of wonder. Familiarity deadens the soul. It also spawns our resentments.

True contemplatives, mystics, and children never live the illusion of familiarity. That is why they are never bored, cynical, and resentful. For them, there are no hick towns, godforsaken places, or ordinary marriage partners and ordinary children who can be taken for granted and rendered familiar. For them, there is only holy ground, the extraordinary, miracle in ordinary life. They, in the words of G.K. Chesterton, “have learned to look at things familiar until these look unfamiliar again.”

Karl Rahner was once asked whether he believed in miracles. “I don’t believe in them,” he replied, “I rely on them to get me through daily life!” There’s a secret wisdom worth contemplating.