Canadians had their own guardian angel this holiday season in the person of Commander Chris Hadfield. Hadfield, currently living in space aboard the international space station, is Commander of Expedition 35. In an inspiring feat of globalization, Hadfield, NASA's Tom Marshburn and Russia's Roman Romanenko's blasted into space in a Soyuz spacecraft on December 19 from Baikonour Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. And amidst winter flurries of tweets and threats about fiscal cliffs and Mayan Armageddon, Hadfield has been rounding the world every 90 minutes or so, tweeting from the inky black of "international" space (@Cmdr_Hadfield), giving Canadians—and the world—the Christmas gift of wonder.
Wonder is a lost discipline in a culture wavering between unreasonable expectations and dour cynicism. Corporations record profit, but because it's not record breaking, investors lose confidence. The banality of everyday justice is obscured by the rupture of terrible violence. Some beauty, some justice, some solidarity are derisively dismissed in the hunt for an omnibus bill of all things, at all times. Proximate settlements gnaw at us as compromises, eclipsing the good, slow work of reformation. We long for revolution.
It's hard not to feel cheated at Christmas, a supposed revolution of rest and revitalization, which in truth is often characterized as frenetic and feverish. The New Year invites a catharsis of introspection, resolutions about the year to come. Often these aspirational resolutions are premature, naïve, or idealistic. The Christian religious feel the sting of this even more pointedly; a saviour is come, and yet we feel unsaved. A king is born, but we struggle to taste or see the kingdom.
A week ago I was on earth looking at the stars. Today I am looking down thinking what a beautiful world we have.Happy holidays to you all.— Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield) December 25, 2012
Wonder is essential because in the discipline of wonder we taste and see the kingdom, we experience and orient an Advent longing, the new year resolution, the hope of Epiphany. Wonder is far more than conceding unanswered questions, it is a conscious discipline attending "closely to our place at the fringe of vast divine mysteries." Says Ryan O'Dowd, in a piece shortly to be published in Comment, wonder is "where we move constantly between the inexplicable and the explicable, between the depths of darkness and light, and between our grasp of meaning and the absence of meaning." It exposes with solidarity, rather than hides with shame, human limitations. It grounds imagination and compassion.
The cultural imagination of the modern person oscillates between the hope for wonder unseen, and heartbreak at wonder unrealized and unknown. Neither our increasingly marginal religious holidays, nor our scientific or economic exploits seem capable of sustaining the wonder which is intrinsic to, essential for, our common lives together.
So enters Canada's guardian angel this holiday season, blasted to his icy home in outer space from central Asia, gifting from above the people of the world, and of Canada, tweets of rawest wonder.
Commander Hadfield's offering may seem trite to a world rent by fiscal and political collapse—hardly a competitor for front page news, or top story of the hour. But his tweets from above press upon the imagination of a cynical generation, expose the wonder that resides irrepressibly in the human spirit, and pushes us beyond polarized rhetoric and into "the fringe of vast, divine mysteries." It's not idealism, but it is evidence of something more, a foretaste of something magnificent. Something extraordinary. Commander Hadfield hasn't served us a reason for hope, but he has given us wonder, the condition for the reasonableness of hope. What better discipline to begin 2013?