Descartes identifies six “primitive” passions: love, hatred, desire, joy, sadness, and wonder. Apart from wonder, he says, each of these passions has a direction of motion—appetitive or aversive—depending on how it evaluates an object. Wonder, though, is unique. It is the one passion that does not assess, but admires.
In our consumerist and narcissistic culture, we tend to undervalue wonder. Instead of seeing people and objects as they are, we see them as we are. We do not stand in awe, but evaluation. This is true, of course, with God, too. We are tempted to assess, not admire, him. We often forget to behold him and, instead, we draw near to him on transactional terms.
In Psalm 46, however, the sons of Korah sing, “Come, behold the works of the Lord,” and the Lord himself invites, “Be still, and know that I am God” (vv. 8, 10). When Jesus heals the paralytic man, Luke observes the reaction of the witnesses: “And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, ‘We have seen extraordinary things today’” (Lk. 5:26).
For the Life of the World: Letters to Exiles’ Episode 6: The Economy of Wonder explores the importance of our appreciative capacity. It shows how wonder is necessary for love, for “getting lost” in the gaze of our beloved. Yet it challenges us to pursue humility, submission, and surrender—for these are the qualities on which the passion of wonder thrives.
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