We all need a little more awe

This Sunday at Hudson Memorial Presbyterian Church

Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
 See, darkness covers the earth
    and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
    and his glory appears over you.

Isaiah 60:1-2

One of the things I love about church is the opportunity to get my brain up and running in terms of practical theology. Pastor Mac is good at this, at once both inspirational and challenging.

This week, he talked about the importance of “awe” in the human experience. I’m not quoting from Sunday’s sermon, or even paraphrasing; but Mac’s preaching is absolutely responsible for launching my thoughts in this direction.

awe – noun: a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder.

Interestingly – and I did some exploration on line about this – research notes a consistent correlation between experiencing awe and feelings of purpose, wellbeing, confidence, and trust.

As someone who tries to stay connected to a broad understanding of our culture, it strikes me as telling that in an age where so many people no longer identify as Christian – and where many who do, no longer attend church – we are also witnessing a decline in terms of purpose, wellbeing, confidence, and – tragically – trust (and the social implications of lost trust are evident and immense).

Christianity has long taught that “there is a God-shaped hole in everyone’s lives that is begging to be filled.” Could it be, then, that the widespread disassociation from faith – and its attendant experiences of awe – is a key factor in understanding the wider disharmony plaguing the human spirit?

What we are talking about this morning – or, more accurately, what I am rambling on about – is awe, what awe does for us, the correlation between the absence of awe and a general malaise, and also the notion that a dynamic relationship with God is an important source of awe.

Conversation with Rebekah:

Rebekah and I talked about this on the way home from church. We both noted that we experience awe in a variety of settings – and frequently.

  • Walking into a great cathedral such as Notre Dame in Paris, the Duomo in Milan, or St. Paul’s in London.
  • Feeling the movement of God’s spirit in a church packed to overflowing.
  • Sunrise from the summit of Mt. Sinai in Egypt.
  • Holding our very own newborn child.
  • Hearing an aria by Puccini sung in a historic church in Florence.
  • Stepping to the edge of the Grand Canyon for the first time.
  • Walking into a gallery to see Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, then turning around to see Monet’s massive Water lilies canvas on another wall.
  • Standing on the dunes at Camber Sands….

There is not only so much that has the potential to evoke awe, but there is also a sense in which hearts that are receptive to awe are more likely to experience it. And I believe that we are made more receptive through an active relationship with God.

What is awe?

Awe, to me, essentially says, “This is something that is absolutely beyond my capacity to process. The beauty – or the majesty – of what I am interfacing with reminds me that there is more, so much more (of love, beauty, spirit, light, joy…) than what I can experience or understand. And so I stand in awe, in need of maybe a translator of sorts.

C.S. Lewis rightly suggests that all these things that leave us dumfounded and reeling with a mixture of joy and almost caution, point to even greater things in heaven, that we will one day have the capacity to process and to enjoy.

Awe, then, can leave us reassured that what we see now (“Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known...,” 1 Corinthians 13) is not all there is, confident that there is even more, and that there is a God who can help us navigate to that place so we will not be so lost there… so that we will not be so lost here.

Yes, I believe that is it! We need to be in awe so that we can acknowledge our relationship to the eternal, the unmeasurable, the infinite – the greater possibilities we are not equipped to imagine now. Awe connects us to God’s imagination, God’s providence, not ours.

Okay, this post is getting too long. Peace, y’all, and awe – DEREK


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