Posted by: sailingspirit | May 15, 2011

Rediscovering Awe

Zellamsee mountain view

Image via Wikipedia


Q:  What do a skydiver, a child with a bug jar, and a white man in Buddhist robes have in common?

A:  They are all seeking the experience of Awe.

Q:  Which is most likely to find it?

A:  The one who most forgets himself.

Julian Hoffman’s marvelous piece on the wonder of ordinary places touched on a most essential key to happiness and contentment: the placement of our awareness.  He describes how young children display our original capacity for great wonderment and awe as they engage with even the “simplest” aspects of nature, captivated by it for long stretches with enthusiasm adults strain to manufacture elsewhere.  And he mournfully states how we “shed” that ability along aging’s way.  His point is that young children focus their awareness on their surroundings, taking it all in with equal-opportunity fascination and attention, whereas adults focus awareness on themselves, particularly insecurities and shortcomings.  I beheld a mental picture of a young child and parent in the same field, at the same moment, one ecstatic in the full-body sensation of discovery while the other bored and fidgety, silently urging the former to get a fill enough to go home.  And what a tragic sight it was.

I’m reminded of three things that have come my way just this week; the first from a reference Bible study I was doing, the second from a TV documentary, and the third from another blog:

  • Through the body we have material, or world consciousness; through the soul we have self-consciousness; and through the spirit we have God-consciousness
  • A great many westerners are flocking to eastern belief systems because they are attracted to the shift of consciousness promoted therein
  • The things adults do today “for fun” often make no sense, and even more often are extreme–the kinds of things we typically refer to as thrill-seeking

And so today as I listened to Julian’s essay it all came together for me.  We are all in search of the experience of awe that we are born to know, but that our culturally-imposed shift of consciousness has estranged us from.  Small children retain it, parents of small children (and pets) witness it vicariously, thrill-seekers try to brave it, journeymen trekking to the other side of the world hope to excavate it, yet only those who are willing to forego themselves enough to attain a spiritual view of God will truly find it, and have their senses’ environment-consciousness fully unlocked to reveal the wonder that was attested to all along.

Whether you hear it in secular, political human rights circles, or New Age/Old Age religious circles, beauty contestant circles, or a TV commercial selling soda there is a buzz about striving for a broader human awareness, that of human unity or oneness.  A realization that we are a global community whether we like it or not, are aware of it or not, and that continuing to quarrel like fussy siblings simply is not sustainable.  So it must stop.  And that sounds like a really good campaign: be less aware of yourself and more aware of other people.

Except that won’t fully work, because of the first bulleted item above.  Less awareness of self traded for more awareness of other bodies or other senses of self is still ignoring the need for the spirit to be utilized, and the spirit’s purpose is to facilitate awareness of God.  So, our popular (soda)pop-culture phrasework sets us about a shift of awareness laterally but not vertically.  We accomplish half the goal by putting the people as higher priority than God.  If we were to put God as higher priority, we would expand our awareness vertically first and that would naturally inspire and facilitate an expansion laterally to follow.  Thus, accomplishing the whole goal in less time and with less effort.

We scramble and strive, even throw ourselves out of perfectly functioning airplanes trying to experience awe when the truth is awe is as near as your own nose because awe is found in God, and God has built us as spiritual beings with a natural propensity to seek Him and behold His awesomeness.  Once you have found Him, even the ordinary takes on new amazement and the things you used to get crazy with don’t even interest you anymore.  They are revealed for the poor substitutes they are.  Temporary posers, all.

So if it is that easy, why are people still feeling the need to trek the far corners of the earth?  Why do they think God is far away?

Well, part of it I do believe is that cultural pressure mentioned earlier.  It is very hard to expand against a force that is trying to keep you compressed (and depressed).  So some, in their early stages, look for a more supportive growth environment such as that found in cultures where the contemplative and communal are still respected and practiced.  The crushing individuality and self-servitude of American culture is probably the most challenging environment in which to try forgetting yourself.

And, I must say, the Church that should be the biggest proponent of God-focused awe and inclusiveness has been acting quite the opposite over the last few generations (at least) in this country, and to some degree always has wherever it has existed in the world.  So many are left with the impression that they will not find the Awesome God they seek in Christianity, but only the amplified, incinerating experience of maximum self-consciousness (condemnation) and others-consciousness (legalism and denominational fracturing).  So of course nobody wants that!  And we’ve seen the diminishing results of the Church’s insistence on human proclamation of shortcomings rather than trusting God’s ability to wow us Himself and thereby make our smallness pretty obvious by comparison.  The Church has touted itself with a “Holier than Thou” aspiration instead of touting God’s “Holier than Thou” reality.

Why do church people not seem to believe that God can speak for Himself?  Is perfectly capable of representing Himself?  Why do we trip over each other trying to advertise our churches and programs, turn tricks trying to collect favorable opinions of what we do rather than just spreading the invitation to come meet God and decide–about Him, not us–for yourself?  Why has the Church turned the Great Commission into something so complicated?  It’s no better than a company spending all its effort and resources coming up with the strongest marketing strategy rather than just developing the best product and letting satisfied customers do the marketing for you.  If we would occupy ourselves with enjoying God, people would come forward and ask why our faces are glowing so brightly, and how they could get what we’re having.  The Church as been operating in a collective self-centeredness.

Lasting, sustainable, authentic, full-concentration awe is found in God and God alone.  And the way we get to it is not by trying to add it to our lives, but rather by willingness to forget our lives.  Shift our consciousness from our selves to Him.  Give Him the opportunity to wow you.  You won’t be disappointed.

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