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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Thrower

More to being astonished than meets the eye…

Updated: May 31, 2023

In another of his occasional essays, Terry Martin takes a look at ‘Astonishment’:

We are all acquainted with the experience of being astonished at something remarkable and unusual: a breathtaking view, a new piece of music or an unexpected kindness. However, it is another matter to be astonished at something ordinary, for example, at ‘simply’ being alive. To be astonished is to look at the familiar and to find it strange. This takes us into the realm of cultural anthropology.

‘The cultural anthropologist’s goal during fieldwork is to describe a group of people to others in a way that makes strange or unusual features of the culture seem familiar and familiar traits seem extraordinary. The point is to help people think in new ways about aspects of their own culture by comparing them with other cultures.’ [1]

Both making the familiar strange and making the strange familiar can lead to astonishment as they involve the unexpected or unanticipated. [2, 3]

There are countless references in the gospels to the people being astonished by Jesus’ teaching and works. For example:

‘And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.’ [4]

Very young children are easily astonished for they have yet to become familiar with the world. Jesus commends their attitude:

‘And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. [5]

Maybe old age is a good place to recover this attitude; it is, after all, sometimes called a second childhood.


1. ‘Making the Strange Familiar and the Familiar Strange ’, Social Sci LibreTexts, found here.

2. Roberta Kane, ‘The Unanticipated Event’, Design For Arts in Education 85:6 (1984), pp. 39–40.

3. Thomas Mathiesen, ‘The Unanticipated Event and Astonishment, Inquiry 3:1–4 (1960), pp. 1–17.

4. Matthew 7:28–29 (KJV)

5. Matthew 18:2–5 (KJV)

Terry Martin is a trustee of the charity Caraway which has a team of Anna Chaplains ministering in and around Southampton.



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