In yesterday’s DM, we brought together the unlikely prophet of the environmental movement, Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, and Catholic monk Thomas Merton who responded profoundly to her groundbreaking book that disturbed the powers that be of academia, corporations and government.
Today, I want to carry on that synergetic friendship twixt Merton and Carson around the theme of another book by Carson, one that she did not finish before her untimely death in 1964 but that was published after she died. It is called The Sense of Wonder and it is essentially an essay she wrote in 1956 in Woman’s Home Companion with the title, “Help Your Child to Wonder.”*
In the book version it is wonderfully buttressed with rich photographs of the richness and beauty of nature. She had laid out plans for the book before she died. “We plan for it to be rather lavishly illustrated with the most beautiful photographs we can find some color and some black and white,” she told a friend. And so it is. Before her death, she wrote, “I want very much to do the Wonder book, that would be Heaven to achieve.”
The book begins with the story of her wrapping her 20 month old grand nephew Roger in a blanket and taking him down to the beach at night during a rain storm. “I think we felt the same spine-tingling response to the vast, roaring ocean and the wild night around us,” she testifies. By the time Roger was four years old, they continued their adventures in nature both in the calm and the storms, in daytime and at night times. These encounters were “based on having fun together rather than on teaching,” she informs us.
There are deep insights here for what eldership means and why it is so important to work—“without a why”—as Meister Eckhart tells us. Carson instructs us:
If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder…he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in. Carson knew nature’s role in keeping the Via Positiva alive.
Thomas Merton had this same sense when he writes:
Contemplation is the highest expression of man’s intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for life, for awareness and for being.
As prophets (who interfere and say ‘No!’) and as mystics (who celebrate wonder and say ‘Yes!’), Merton and Carson are brother and sister.
*See Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder (NY HarperCollins: 1998).
Adapted from Matthew Fox, A Way To God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey, pp. 47ff.
To read a transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.
Queries for Contemplation
Are you one of those adults who assist children to keep alive their inborn sense of wonder? Did others do that for you when you were young?
A Way to God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey
In A Way to God, Fox explores Merton’s pioneering work in interfaith, his essential teachings on mixing contemplation and action, and how the vision of Meister Eckhart profoundly influenced Merton in what Fox calls his Creation Spirituality journey.
“This wise and marvelous book will profoundly inspire all those who love Merton and want to know him more deeply.” — Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism