This year has been an amazing awe and wonder springtime on America’s west coast. In California the spectacular blooming of the desert brought thousands of people out to relish the brilliant oranges, yellows and purples of the flowers whose seeds lie dormant, sometimes for years waiting for rain.
In Oregon brilliant purple lupines waved their heads across the mountainsides and here in Seattle, smiling daffodils gave way to tulips and azaleas and rhododendrons in blazing displays of red and pink, white and yellow.
Awe in Doses
A daily dose of awe may not seem to be a very spiritual practice, but I am increasingly convinced that it is. I think it is an essential practice to introduce our congregations to as we move into the summer.
Did you know that a daily dose of awe makes us more caring people? Nature walks boost our immune system and make us healthier and more emotionally stable people. They enrich our contemplative core and expand our horizons to explore new aspects of our world and of our God.
Unfortunately many of us don’t have time for God’s awe and wonder world. As Robert Macfarlane says in his wonderful book Landmarks: “we have stunned the world out of wonder”. We are too busy and too distracted to notice. We have replaced the mystery and majesty of our world and of our God with mastery and desire for control. And tragically our churches seem to contribute to the problem rather than alleviating it.
It’s not just natural landscapes that open us to awe either. “Awe softens us for the thunder glance of God and then enables us to glance at others in just the same way.” says Father Greg Boyle an important homeless advocate in Los Angeles. Awe begets awe. Recognizing it in the natural world expands our vision to see God in the faces of friends and stranger alike.Recognizing awe in the natural world expands our vision to see God in the faces of friends and stranger alike. – Christine Sine Click To Tweet
So how do we open ourselves and our congregations, to a daily dose of awe and wonder? It doesn’t begin with a hurried walk through the neighbourhood or in a church small group. It is a little like taking lectio divina out into the world, opening our minds, hearts and souls to the mystery of God’s presence in everything we see and experience.
Slow the Hurry
First we must slow down and take notice. Most of us hurry through our neighborhoods or to church, intent on where we are going rather than where we are. Slowing down and giving ourselves permission to savour everything we see, hear and touch is an important step towards appreciating its awe.
Suddenly we notice not just the magnificent trees in our local parks but also the gardens in broken pavement and the beauty of dandelions in an abandoned lot. Then our eyes shift to the faces of strangers who pass us in the street. They too make us gasp in awe as we catch glimpses of the image of God in them.
Time for Silence
Awe and wonder is rooted in silence. We don’t just hurry, we also go noisily through life constantly making noise or listening to it. On my daily lakeside walks I am amazed at how many fellow walkers listen to music or talk to friends rather than looking, listening and touching the beauty around them. They walk not for enjoyment but for exercise.
Taking time to enter the silence in which God can speak to us about where we live and reveal the intricate details we need to notice is hard, yet necessary if we really want to see our surroundings as God does.
Third we need to take notice of the small and beautiful things. Awe can be triggered by an unexpected smile, a helping hand on the bus, graffiti on the wall. Giving ourselves permission to stop, notice and appreciate the inspiration of these things is a rare and precious gift.
Awe and wonder are enhanced when we seek out what gives us goosebumps. I recently walked around Beacon New York where my husband’s family live. I have always enjoyed walking the streets but this time looked with fresh awe and wonder eyes. I love the murals – from the famous “man with no face” to the mermaid/Hudson River image, their beauty and the story they tell never ceases to inspire me. This year there were new ones that caught my attention and filled me with awe.
Fourth awe and wonder helps us see the world differently. It changes our perspectives of what is beautiful and what is worthy of notice. Walk around your neighborhood with a houseless person, with someone from another culture or with a child. They will notice things you never see and have perspectives very different from your own. They will open your eyes to marvel at aspects of your community that you take for granted.
I encourage you to take time this week to enter into the wonder not just of God’s created world but also of the communities in which you live. Help your congregations truly look, listen and notice. Take your camera and a companion. What do you notice? What inspires you? Journal about your responses. Enjoy the re-wonderment of God’s world.
(Adapted from The Gift of Wonder)
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