Awe and Wonder are holy and forceful things.
The Prophet Isaiah, from whose writings we get the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, recently given to 25 members of our faith community in Confirmation – calls this “fear of the Lord” – but this is not the scary kind of fear – it is the “awe and wonder” type of fear we have before our marvelously, creative God. .
According to journalist Bill Moyers, awe and wonder even have the power to profoundly change people.
In his book, A World of Ideas, Moyers tells of watching the long ago launch of the Apollo 17 rocket in 1975.
He describes the rocket rising off the launch pad amid brilliant flames and deafening thunder. He tells how a sense of wonder fills everyone as they watch the mighty rocket going up and up and up.
The crowd gazes in amazement as the first stage ignites a beautiful blue flame.
Writes Moyers, the rocket “becomes like a star, but your realize there are humans on it.” As the rocket soars out of sight, a hush falls over the crowd.
Later, as the people begin to leave, Moyers describes the effect the launch has had on them: “People just get up quietly, helping each other up. They’re kind. They open doors. They look at one another, speaking quietly and interestedly.>>
This group of people were suddenly different – because they were caught up in the sense of wonder – the experience of something greater than themselves.
[Story found in Everyday Epiphanies by Melannie Svododa.]
The sense of awe and wonder are holy and forceful things – they even have the power to profoundly change people: just ask Abraham. . .
Abraham was an old man – and his wife, Sarah, was no spring chicken. When God first told Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation – he did not believe it—because he and Sarah had no children – and it was a little late in life to begin a family.
God knew that Abraham might be a bit skeptical – and that’s when God took him outside and said, “look up at the sky and try to count the stars if you can.” The implication was that if I, God, can create all of this – don’t you think I can keep my promise of making you a father???
Abraham, caught up in the wonder of the night sky – soon became a believer. He had experienced the holy and forceful power of getting caught up in something greater than himself — and he was changed.
The sense of awe and wonder are holy and forceful things – they even have the power to profoundly change people: just ask Peter, James and John.
By this point in Luke’s Gospel — they have come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah. But they have also heard Jesus say that he has to suffer and die –and then be raised up. And the thought of a Messiah, a God, suffering and dying made us much sense to them as a 90 year old man becoming a father. It just did not make sense to them – and so they were a bit skeptical.
And that’s when Jesus took this questioning trio up the mountain – and there he was changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white and Moses and Elijah stopped by for a chat.
Peter, James, and John – were caught up in the wonder of the Transfigured Christ. They had experienced the holy and forceful power of getting caught up in something greater than themselves – and they were changed – they came down the mountain better people than when they went up the mountain. . .
Now this will sound like a 60s folk group – but Abraham, Peter, James and John – were each offered glimpses of wonderful things – the very presence of God in their midst.
Their experience of awe and wonder – their brush with the divine – changed them – and made them more faithful to carrying out the will of God in their lives.
How about us – when was the last time we had a brush with the divine – a sense of awe and wonder – a mountaintop experience, an unexpected “aha” moment—— that changed us in some way,
When was the last time we actually tried to live out one of the prayers of the faithful we prayed last week: for the grace to be aware: that we may slow down, detach ourselves from the busyness of daily life and find a quiet place to listen to God?
Or is this not a golf ball we choose to put into our jar of life?
When was the last time we looked up at the starry night and been overwhelmed by awe and wonder at the creator of such a spectacle. . .
Hopefully, now that perhaps winter is over and spring is upon us – it’s time for us to get out and listen to the birds, watch for the first daffodil, feel the sun on our checks and the wind at our back>>
and be struck with a sense of wonder as to how all of these seasonal changes take place year after year.
One author I read this week said that to develop a sense of awe and wonder – one should just take a deep breath and hold it as long as you can – and then marvel at the fact that when you do need to breathe again – you can! And we do that – breathe in and out, thousands of times a day without even thinking about it – pretty amazing! We are wonderfully and gloriously made!
One research study I read showed that when it comes to our emotional health – awe is a natural stress-reliever.
It expands our sense of time, and makes us less prone to impatience. Research has also shown that people who experience awe on a regular basis are more inclined to be generous as awe fills us with a feeling of connection to other people.
For some of us – entering into this time and place — perhaps is the only mountaintop experience we get all week – our best chance to have a brush with the divine — when Christ, as once he did for the disciples, so now for us, opens the Scriptures and breaks the bread.
This sense of awe and wonder of being in the presence of Christ is to be a holy and forceful thing in our lives – a power that can profoundly change us –
if we but “come to our senses” and open ourselves to the great gift the God gives us week after week.
Which is why we should do our best to preserve a sense of the sacred in this place – by leaving our louder conversations – and the mention of buying and selling of things – in the gathering space – in order to enhance the sense of the sacred in here – and within ourselves – as we have this brush with the divine!
Then hopefully the experience we have here – just as Abraham looking up at the stars—- and Peter, James, and John gazing upon the Transfigured Christ — may change us ————–
so that we are little better when we leave this place – than when we arrived! —— May we ask the almighty God, as did the late Jewish Rabbi Abraham Heschel once did: “Do not give me success, Lord – give me wonder.” The sense of awe and wonder that can profoundly change us.
And then we can say like Dr. Martin Luther King once said in Memphis, Tennessee: “I have been to the mountaintop!”