“Wunderbar”, “merveilleux”, “wonderful”. A lovely, uplifting word, a word we should reserve for more than a response to someone who asks how we are feeling today (try “awesome”) . We use the epithet in speaking of God, as in Handel’s Messiah : “Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God …”. In carols at Christmas we sing of “the wonders of His love”. Like the Bible, we apply the word to the beauty and vastness of the night-sky. And we all love, and especially after several shots of Scotch, share the sentiments of Satcho’s signature song, the title of a Reflection in “From Illusions to Illumination” (p. 83) : “It’s a Wonderful World”.
“Wonder” is also a synonym for “miracle”. Beyond the beauty of a sunset, the overwhelming grandeur of the cosmos, beyond extraordinary acts of heroism and generosity, beyond the break-throughs in science and medicine and the accomplishments of engineering, beyond the euphoria we feel at the announcement of unexpected good news, there are the phenomena some people call miraculous : apparitions of the Blessed Virgin in grottoes and on fence-posts, recovery from incurable diseases like Lou Gehrig’s or MS, survival in spite of disasters like earthquakes and bushfires and accidents like plane and car crashes. As if there were not enough wonders already in the world, some of us invent or kid ourselves into seeing “miracles” which they attribute to God or other supernatural entities like His Mum (who always appears looking like one of her statues in (exclusively Catholic) churches).
It is indeed cause for wonder, this propensity to accept illusions, mirages, wishful thinking, unexplained events and sheer good luck as miracles. They are a quick-fix for people who need reassurance that God is for real, that all they have been taught to believe is true. You may as well talk to a brick-wall or a suicidal terrorist when a believer starts marshalling miracles as “evidence”. What William James called “The Will to Believe” often makes discussion with the credulous pretty well pointless. I wonder sometimes why we even try.