For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him, and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon.
Abraham Joshua Heschel, the great Jewish rabbi and philosopher of the mid-20th century begins his book, Man is not Alone: a philosophy of religion, with those words.
Perhaps more significant than the fact of our awareness of the cosmic is our consciousness of having to be aware of it, as if there were an imperative, a compulsion to pay attention to that which lies beyond our grasp.
On this Sunday before Ash Wednesday, it is good to reflect on our capacity for wonder.
Our first reading recalls Isaiah's astonishment as he beheld the Presence of God in Solomon's Temple, a building which has been called one of the eight wonders of the ancient world. As he and his colleagues were marching through another ritual of smoking incense, blaring trumpets and thundering drums with the priests and acolytes marching around and singing songs -- just another day in the life of a temple priest -- Isaiah beheld Yahweh Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts. He felt at that moment what Rabbi Heschel described as "a compulsion to pay attention...."
He may have fallen to his knees before that revelation which only he could see. Perhaps those around him stumbled over him and wondered what's happening to our staid, disciplined brother Isaiah. If he was looking up at the ceiling perhaps they looked up too -- and saw only clouds of incense -- where he saw Seraphic Angels circling in dizzy spirals and crying, HOLY, HOLY, HOLY.
Fortunately, his experience was not that unusual. If he was the only priest so blessed on that particular day he was not the first to experience God's grandeur. For many, if not most, human beings have similar epiphanies. Jewish and Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic liturgies, with their long periods of silence, are intentionally open to revelations of God. And we know the Lord can speak to anyone at any time in such a manner,
Rabbi Heschel again: The ineffable inhabits the magnificent and the common, the grandiose and the tiny facts of reality alike. Some people sense this quality at distant intervals in extraordinary events; others sense it in the ordinary event, in every fold, in every nook; day after day, hour after hour.... Slight and simple as they may be -- a piece of paper, a morsel of bread, a word, a sigh -- they hide and guard a never-ending secret: a glimpse of God? Kinship with the spirit of being? An eternal flash of a will?If modern secular society disapproves and tries to disprove such experience it fails pathetically. Even our entertainment industry, greedy as it is, must admit that millions of people are often Touched by an Angel.
Today's gospel also invites us to open our minds and hearts to the Ineffable. What could be more mundane than the ordinary work of a tradesman like that of Peter and his brothers? Where hobby fishing is relaxing and refreshing, professional fishing is back-breaking toil. Where the hobbyist hopes to catch a trophy the professional hopes to meet expenses. What he doesn't expect is a boat swamped with fish at the command of a landlubber.
Peter was so astonished he went down on his knees -- up to his shoulders in leaping, squirming fish -- to say "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man."
Fortunately, the Lord would no more leave Peter than the Lord of Hosts would destroy the Prophet Isaiah. Instead he commanded Peter, "Do not be afraid."
The human being is certainly capable of wonder. But am I ready for that moment?
As we enter Lent, we need not be afraid of that Ocean of the Ineffable which lies beneath the keel of our consciousness. Willing to peer into mystery we might even glimpse "an eternal flash of a will."