Keep the windows of wonder wide open

Second Reading

Adults have a duty to reveal the wonders of the natural world to children

Second Reading
Fr Kevin Hegarty

One of the staples of media coverage in early January are photographs of babies born on New Year’s Day. Children are a vote of confidence in the future. The poet Eavan Boland has written beautifully of the meaning they bring into our lives:
“They begin the world again, making the mountain ridges hue and the rivers clear and the hero fearless and the outcome always undecided so the next teller can say begin and again and astonish children. Our children are our legends. You are mine, you have my name, my hair was once like yours and the world is less bitter to me because you will retell the story.”
Hillary Clinton is among those to have recited the old proverb, ‘It takes a village to rear a child’. As adults we have a duty to ensure that children grow up in an environment where they are safe, protected and encouraged. We are also called to reveal to them the wonders of the natural world and the rich vistas of human experience.
One of my favourite stories is Bryan MacMahon’s ‘The Windows of Wonder’. It is a simple and profound tale. The main character is a young substitute teacher who takes up duty in a rural school. It is a small community in a remote valley where silence is a form of passive aggression. Strangers are regarded with suspicion.
Following the lead of the elders in their homes, the children are unresponsive in the classroom. The young teacher tries a myriad of teaching techniques designed to elicit a response but to no avail.
In despair and about to give up, she stumbles on a way of inspiring their hearts and minds. When she realises that they have not heard Irish legends like the ‘Children of Lir’ and ‘Diarmuid and Gráinne’ she begins to tell the stories. She tells them that each legend is a window of wonder. Each time you hear or ponder upon a story or dream yourself into a story, or break or re-make a story, you are opening a window of wonder.
The classroom is transformed from a place of sullen silence into a vibrant space. Bryan MacMahon writes: “She felt the children’s imaginations coming alive under her care; she knew that something precious was being born in them. Already they were fusing warmly into her nature; the stir of their new life was implicit in the bright cries they uttered as they played along the valley.”
The controlling image of the story is of butterflies being released into freedom and gradually revealing their exquisite beauty.
The nature writer Rachel Carson wrote of the importance of introducing children to the wonders of the natural world: “If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the Christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world would be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.
“What is the value of preserving and strengthening this sense of awe and wonder, this recognition of something beyond the boundaries of human existence? […] Those who contemplate the beauty of the Earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of the birds, the ebb and flow of the tides, the folded bud ready for the spring. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night and spring after winter.”