A Lesser, a Greater, but Not the Greatest Wonder

Having the music library on shuffle I started to hear Beethoven, and upon checking to see what exactly this less familiar Beethoven was, I saw it was Beethoven on Mozart: variations on a theme.

What a wonder, Beethoven on Mozart! Two colossi of creative playfulness, the one following and enhancing the second. We live in a world of wonders we hardly notice. Free access to such a thing is something to attend to and for which to be most grateful.

It is an infinitely lesser thing, yet nevertheless not entirely unlike the wonder of the early verses of the Gospel of Luke, even before the great wonder explodes on the later narrative. Luke’s elegant, periodic introduction soon gives way to the uncanny presence of an angel to the right of a moving cloud of incense. If the room we find this angel silently waiting in was paneled all in gold the way the tabernacle had been, if the seven bright oil lamps were burning warm gold on bright gold, and with the rushing volume of white smoke that characterizes incense rising to fill that place all tinged with that borrowed glory . . . what must have been the rare atmosphere in which Zechariah noticed he was not alone?

And that was just the atmospheric wonder. Here was an angel come in answer to his prayer. Start thinking about the metaphysical wonder in a situation already crowded with awe. Think how what took place with the angel works, and you will find so much wonder that it almost makes weight too preponderant for movement. How do angels communicate with God? Do you have any idea how that works? How exactly does an angel get his instructions? How does he know what to do? These are creatures who may not even occupy space. If they are spiritual beings are they altogether immaterial? How do they even communicate at all? How do they communicate with God, among themselves, and how do they then communicate with us? The marvels are overwhelming. You end up wondering, in this wondrous event, what is even happening? What in this historic and actual event do I latch onto to say: this is what took place?

What Luke records, of course. What Luke so skillfully records, with skill at so many levels. What Luke records in a way so saturated with wonder and incomprehensibility as to be mostly incommunicable, so that what Luke records amounts to a profoundly accurate gesture. And to me among the lesser wonders is that tone and expression of factual amazements that Luke was so good at expressing.

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