Faith Development through Practice
What Does it Mean to be a Family of Awe?
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When was the last time you gasped, wide-eyed, in wonder? Were rendered speechless in the face of glory? Froze in a state of divine inspiration? Laughed and cried at the same time, unable to control the outpouring of emotion? These are some ways we know we are having a moment of awe.
Awe is the undeniable pause while our psyches, bodies, and spirits integrate the reverent and wonder-filled experience we are having. Awe can be a feeling in and of itself, but it can also inspire a positive action taken in light of a new understanding. It’s a powerful, moving, and universal force that can jolt us from where we are to the next step in our individual and collective evolution. Who of us doesn’t need a “jolt of awe” at times in our lives?!
While we are usually surprised by awe, this month we are going to try and set ourselves up to encounter awe in places it’s likely to be found–in the powers and limits of the human body, among our planet’s most impressive inhabitants, and in stories that stay with us, creating a kind of slow-growing awe within as we make room in our minds for new understanding and change.
As you move through your packet this month, remember that delight and deep-hearted gladness are cousins to awe, and if you don’t feel awe, but do feel one of those two very enjoyable and deeply satisfying emotions, that’s good, too. You may or may not get that shivery, wide-eyed response to a sunrise or midnight religious service, or the first snowfall, or one of many other singular and touching happenings in the month of December. We can sometimes place a subtle and unhelpful pressure on ourselves and others to feel or express awe, but it’s not really something you can force. Ultimately, it arrives as a gift.
May that gift make its way to your family this month, or sometime soon, when you need it most.
What Does It Mean To Be A People of Awe?
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This at least seems to me the main problem… How can we contrive to be at once astonished at the world and yet at home in it? …How can this world give us at once the fascination of a strange town and the comfort and honor of being our own town?
– G.K. Chesterton
The path of awe seems well worn. It’s a journey intended to bring us down to size. Pictures of our galaxy with a note that there are 100 billion more just like it. Videos of deep-sea creatures with bioluminescent bodies. Images of the northern lights that are utterly otherworldly. All of them remind us that the universe is more vast than we can imagine. All of them leave us with a sense of wonder that overwhelms. We are brought to the edge of what we can wrap our minds around. It’s like staring into an incomprehensible abyss. One can’t help but feel humbled and small.
But religion has never wanted us to stop there. Hold tight it says. I know it’s hard but trust us: the path doesn’t end with a deep darkness that doesn’t care. Just stand at the abyss a bit longer. Lean in just a little bit more. And when you do so, suddenly an invitation emerges from that awe-full abyss. You look into the vast mystery and surprisingly, it stares back, as if to say, “Welcome home.”
As physicists tell us, contemplation of the vast universe doesn’t make them feel smaller, it makes them realize the larger story of which they are a part. We are stardust, as they say. From the vastness we came and to it we will return again. In other words, to be a people of awe is not so much about feeling small; it’s about feeling connected.
And not just connected to the stars, but also to each other. Awe reduces our size in order to make room for something more than our personal needs, wants and worries. With our narcissism shrunk down to a reasonable proportion, it becomes possible to notice that we are not the only ones up there on the stage. It’s in this way that looking up into the cosmos allows us to look across at each other. And it’s a huge gift, because while being center stage and center of the universe can feel powerful, it’s also a very lonely place to stand.
So friends, don’t just look up at the stars this month. Let that looking up also lead to you looking across. And in doing so, may you – like our friend G.K. Chesterton – not simply be astonished at the universe but also feel at home in it.