Muscles and skills continually unused begin to atrophy and weaken. While I know this personally from experience as someone who used to run rigorously and now walks leisurely, I also see it happening on a cultural level with our capacity for awe.
Awe, officially defined, is a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear and wonder.
I saw aspects of awe when my boys and I got to help raise a little baby Mockingbird who tumbled tragically from his nest. Their senses delighted in the bird’s tiny beak, powerful wings and downy feathers.
I saw other aspects of awe when I took my boys who have read the entire Harry Potter series multiple times to Universal this summer. They literally had chins that were dropped and nearly drooling as they ran through the stores and cities of the books. While I did not appreciate the cost of Butter Beer, their sweet, shocked smiles were well worth the exorbitant price.
However, true awe is increasingly hard to come by. Our awe muscles are atrophying, partly because we live in a comfortable, highly indulgent and gadget-glad society, and partly because we have lost the foundation of the fear of God.
Moving at the speed of sound, we don’t have time to notice the wonders of creation all around us, from the ant brigade on our driveway to the soaring hawks circling above us as we sit in traffic, rushing to the next thing. While awe at creation is incomplete, it is an initial and often necessary step towards the apex of awe which is awe at the Creator behind His creation.
With withering abilities wonder and atrophied awe, we experience aching emptiness. This emptiness, meant to alert us to the void and point us to the void filler, often simply leads us deeper into the frantic cycle of consumption. The gnawing emptinessP we experience is meant to painstakingly point us to contemplation and our Creator; however, more often than not, the realization of emptiness and boredom tends to propel us to work harder, eat more, buy more trinkets and travel farther.
In his book The Shattered Lantern, Ronald Rolheiser powerfully ties the modern lack of awe and wonder to our lack of contemplation.
“People no longer expect to discover dimensions of reality beyond the empirically evident… we no longer see spirit lurking within matter, nor the natural world camouflaging the supernatural.”
How are we to stretch our sedentary awe muscles? How can we begin to recover a child-like wonder at the world around us? How are we to relearn how to stalk the hidden spiritual world that hides behind our natural reality?
We have to slow down enough to see. We have to pull on the thin threads of visible wonder and follow them back to the invisible, only wise God who left us treasure trails everywhere to lead us back to Himself.
To stretch and strengthen muscles for wonder at special revelation (what God reveals through Scripture and His Son), we can begin with general revelation (what. God reveals through His creation), following David’s pattern in Psalm 19.
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge…Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bride-groom leaving his chamber, and like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Psalm 19:1-2 & 4-5.
Having warmed up his wonder muscles with physical realities, David proceeds to practice wonder at spiritual realities.
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. Psalm 19: 7-9.
Today, engage your awe muscles at the visible world. Then, follow the sunbeam back up to the sun, the character of the God who created such wonders.
For with Him, wonders never cease and awe is ever-increasing. We would do well to strengthen our awe muscles during our short stay on earth, for we will need them in eternity!