In Awe of Awe
We were camping this summer on the Taylor River. It was a cold clear night, and we walked thirty yards from the campfire where we could look up through the trees at the un-obstructed sky. We watched for a bit as the dark blue turned black, the sky started to fill with stars, and as the milky way filled in as if God was slowly painting by numbers.
We talked about city lights and how they obscure the stars, making it hard to see what is over our heads all the time. Hudson and Abby were a little amazed to realize how many stars were there. The longer we stood with craned necks, the more they appeared, squeezing out the black space.
I’ve been thinking about awe and its importance in our lives. I’ve been thinking about worship, the poem below, and the role of awe in our lives and worship. There are many things that can propel us in life and our choices, such as duty, or commitments, or guilt, or pain, or cognitive agreement. Awe, however, and that sense of wonder or mystery, that feeling of beauty or love can propel us uniquely. Awe and mystery can draw us in, slow us down, shift our perspective, open up joy and receptiveness, and send us on with the residue of the holy clinging to us.
Biron, in the poem below, describes moments of awe, of staring “dumbstruck at the magnificence of a single ocean wave.” These moments of awe, for him, cause the magnitude of the climate crisis to fade for the moment, for the fleeting feeling of working and speaking fruitlessly to fade, and to be caught in the moment—a moment of awe, beauty, mystery.
I wonder if these moments of awe are too rare in our lives, moments of being in nature, silent, attentive to the things always before us, but obscured through our inattentiveness. I wonder if our worship is providing such a moment for us. Perhaps we might ask how to foster such a perspective—that worship might be an opportunity to stare dumbstruck at the love of God. And perhaps the magnificence of an ocean wave is no more fascinating than the mystery of how God has been present in your journey, or the wonder of how God loves this broken world, or the raw beauty we see when we imitate God by a simple act, like offering a hand or a cup of cold water.
These are moments, as passing as that ocean wave as it crashes into the foam. We are present, but our necks cannot crane toward the sky illimitably. As Biron expresses, that passing moment, though only for a moment, does something to us and in us, that we are changed and nourished. And through that moment we re-enter the world with something to offer that we did not have prior, some holy residue. And in place of that fruitless and vain feeling, we are supplied with hope, for me, and you, and every other blessed thing.
On Being Asked to Write a Poem Against the Destruction of the Natural World…
One means of sanity is to retain a hold on the natural world, to remain, insofar as we can, good animals. ~ Wallace Stegner
Well, yes I have written such poems on
occasion and several times in fact, not
because I was asked, but just because
my heart or soul or maybe some other
nameless part of me couldn’t help but
do so. I’ve quoted Rachel Carson, Walt
Whitman, and Wallace Stegner just to
add intellectual heft to my haranguing.
And based on what I can tell, so far none
of my writing or talking has made a single
bit of difference, except that I now stare
dumbstruck at the magnificence of a single
ocean wave, and cannot take my eyes
off clouds and full moons or Giant Egrets,
taking one tiny sacred step at a time.
After all, isn’t every poem ever just a search
and rescue party for our heart and soul–
nothing protected, nothing saved, nothing
sustained, except maybe, just maybe, me,
and you, and every other blessed thing.