Notes from “Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl”

I have been reading Nathan D. Wilson’s book Notes from the Tilt-A-Whiril: Wide-Eyed Wonder in God’s Spoken World.  It is a series of meditations on the astounding wonder of this carnival (Earth) that we all live in.   I highly recommend it to you.

It has been said that familiarity breeds contempt.  As young children we look at the whole world with wide-eyed wonder, simply because it is unfamiliar.  I remember taking my son Benjamin to the zoo when he was 1 or 2 years old.  I commented to my wife on the way, “We could just take him out in the backyard instead.  The whole world is a zoo to him.”  But we went anyway.  We were willing to spend the money for our own sake, even if not necessarily for his.

But the more familiar this place becomes, the more we tend to consider it ordinary, given, ho-hum.  Wilson’s book lands like a bombshell on that ridiculous notion.  Take this example:

What is this place? Why is this place? Who approved it? Are the investors happy? Was this cosmic behavior expected? Am I supposed to take it seriously? How can I? I’ve watched goldfish make babies, and ants execute earwigs. I’ve seen a fly deliver live young while having its head eaten by a mantis. And I had a golden retriever that behaved like one.

This is not a sober world. A mouse once pooped on my toddler nephew, provoked by traps in the living room. Misled by board books, my nephew identified the offending rodent as a sheep. Bats really do exist. Caterpillars really turn into butterflies–it’s not just a lie for children. Coal squishes into diamonds. Apple trees turn flowers into apples using sunlight and air.

I’ve seen a baby born. And, ahem, I know what made it. But I’m not telling you. You’d never believe me.

The book is a stirring, comical reminder of what I like to call the “might-not-have-been-ness” of the world.  Nothing that is here had to be here.  Nothing that is here had to be the way that it is.  Everything might not have been, or might not have been the way that it is, and yet it is.  There is a glorious wonder in the contingency of it all, which in turn points us back to the wildness, imagination, and artistry of the Creator who determined not only that it would be, but that it would be this way instead of some other way.

In Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton says that most of what he learned about the world he learned as a child listening to fairy tales.  Fairy tales are perfectly suited to teach us about reality, for as we enter into their magical lands, we have the opportunity to be caught up in the wonder of might-not-have-been-ness again and again.  Here is one example:

. . . when we are very young children we do not need fairy tales: we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough. A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door. Boys like romantic tales; but babies like realistic tales–because they find them romantic. In fact, a baby is about the only person, I should think, to whom a modern realistic novel could be read without boring him. This proves that even nursery tales only echo an almost pre-natal leap of interest and amazement. These tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.

In the next twenty-four hours you will experience another complete revolution on this enormous spinning ball.  Enjoy your ride.

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