When I was first asked to review this slim volume from Mike Cosper, it wasn’t just a new book, it was still forthcoming. The request came in the same month in which brain surgeons opened my skull, so I had a fantastic excuse to offer my regrets and decline. And, to be honest, that was my initial impulse. But instead, for some unknown reason, I begged for an absurd amount of time, and said that I would give the book a read. And now that Recapturing the Wonder has been out for more than a year, here I am, fashionably late, but grateful to have been asked and grateful that something, somehow—in the most absurd month of my life—made me say yes.
Before this book, I had never read anything by Cosper beyond the occasional tweet, and those never led me to believe that we would have much affinity. (I promise, that sounds worse than I mean it to.) Yes, we are Christian brothers and yes, we both type words, but from those few snippets that floated past my eyes on the interwebs, I truly had no accurate sense of the man, which is why the first ninety pages of this book provoked a great deal of surprise and contemplation. I was surprised by how much I wanted to buy him a drink. I grew contemplative about social media, Twitter in particular, and about the strange way it causes us to sample people like tidbits of cheese on toothpicks at Costco before deciding whether or not they are worthy of our consumption. And this, I shouldn’t have to explain, is a pretty awful way of assessing people.
While not directly addressed in Cosper’s book, this subject of my pondering does relate to the mission and purpose of his writing. Cosper is concerned with thickening callouses of unbelief that build up in individual hearts, families, and communities. He hates the accumulating sediment of cynical rationalism that sedates our wonder and makes us all inclined to disbelieve in the miraculous and supernatural and causes us to miss the beauty of even the simply natural. Cosper calls us all to take note of those small but glorious moments in our lives, like dew on spider tapestries in the morning, which slap us in all six senses and the soul, shake the dust off our cynicisms, and cause us to marvel in our wondrous Maker.
This book intends to aid Christians who desire to cultivate a healthy sensitivity to wonder and a resistance to apathetic cynicism. While his prose often reaches for the poetic, Cosper also gives quite practical suggestions. His discussions of generosity, feasting, prayer, and a Christian view of sexual intimacy are all excellent. His call to put down the phones and head outside is also greatly needed. If Job, at his most raw, is told to wonder at the animals, how much more should we?
In some places, Cosper and I part ways (some petty, some more substantive), but that is to be expected in the pursuit of something as personal as wonder. The writings of Thomas Merton, the famous Trappist monk, clearly mean a great deal to Cosper, evident by his less than cynical admiration for some of the more ascetic forms of religious expression. When it comes to all things monastic (e.g., Lenten abstention, ashy brows, absurdist vows, etc.), all my impulses are with those old Reformers who saw the essential need to feast, wed, bed, and throw sausage barbeques during Lent. Despite my love for and appreciation of many Catholic writers and thinkers, my hatred for every form of self-flagellation is (as Flannery O’Connor might say) somethin’ fierce.
Cosper also holds artists in much higher esteem than I think is healthy. He views them with the all-too-common sentimental respect that has been with us since the Romantics. I mention this not as an essential disagreement but as a quibble. When unpacked, the perspective of artist as uniquely “gifted” is less dangerous to the spiritual health of the average person than it is to the health of artists or aspiring artists. I find it more helpful to think of the best artists as UPS guys (complete with awkward outfits), hustling packages as broadly as they can at Christmas. Imitating that demeanor and attitude as an artist allows an ambitious pursuit of the type of creative generosity Cosper admires. At the same time, it helps kill the “cool kid” temptation of vanity and pride.
Those nits aside, this book provides a great deal of practical edification, for which I am grateful. Consumed slowly, or like a shot tequila after a lick of salt, this book will do readers good. But don’t come to it hoping for an intellectual discussion only. These are not gnostic pages. Come willing to contemplate and then imitate. Come ready to pray, butter noodles, host friends, and establish a familial Sabbath feast. If Cosper’s suggestions are broadly read and followed, the American church would be a more wholesome and holy place by this time next year.