Awe Intro, Exercises and Questions
What Does It Mean To Be
A People of Awe?
This at least seems to me the main problem… How can we contrive to be at once astonished at the world and yet at home in it? …How can this world give us at once the fascination of a strange town and the comfort and honor of being our own town?
– G.K. Chesterton
The path of awe seems well worn. It’s a journey intended to bring us down to size. Pictures of our galaxy with a note that there are 100 billion more just like it. Videos of deep-sea creatures with bioluminescent bodies. Images of the northern lights that are utterly otherworldly. All of them remind us that the universe is more vast than we can imagine. All of them leave us with a sense of wonder that overwhelms. We are brought to the edge of what we can wrap our minds around. It’s like staring into an incomprehensible abyss. One can’t help but feel humbled and small.
But religion has never wanted us to stop there. Hold tight it says. I know it’s hard but trust us: the path doesn’t end with a deep darkness that doesn’t care. Just stand at the abyss a bit longer. Lean in just a little bit more. And when you do so, suddenly an invitation emerges from that awe-full abyss. You look into the vast mystery and surprisingly, it stares back, as if to say, “Welcome home.”
As physicists tell us, contemplation of the vast universe doesn’t make them feel smaller, it makes them realize the larger story of which they are a part. We are stardust, as they say. From the vastness we came and to it we will return again. In other words, to be a people of awe is not so much about feeling small; it’s about feeling connected.
And not just connected to the stars, but also to each other. Awe reduces our size in order to make room for something more than our personal needs, wants and worries. With our narcissism shrunk down to a reasonable proportion, it becomes possible to notice that we are not the only ones up there on the stage. It’s in this way that looking up into the cosmos allows us to look across at each other. And it’s a huge gift, because while being center stage and center of the universe can feel powerful, it’s also a very lonely place to stand.
So friends, don’t just look up at the stars this month. Let that looking up also lead to you looking across. And in doing so, may you – like our friend G.K. Chesterton – not simply be astonished at the universe but also feel at home in it.
Our Spiritual Exercises
New research is clear: Awe heals us!
It’s like taking all of our pharmaceutical supplements, diets, daily gym visits, spiritual practices and life coaches and packaging them up in a single, perfect, cure-all pill. That’s right, a daily dose of awe increases health, happiness, humility, creativity and a sense of connection! It does it all!
But here’s the catch: Not all of us can take a daily trip to the Grand Canyon. Stunning sunrises don’t happen every morning. Clouds and city lights cut us off from nightly views of the stars.
So we need to find other ways to get our daily dose of awe. And that’s what this month’s spiritual exercise options are all about. Each of our options offer an easy and accessible way to connect to awe.
So, get to it. Find the ones that fits you. And remember, while we all commit to doing at least one of our monthly exercises each month, in this case, it doesn’t hurt to double your dose!
Option A :
Collect Awe Stories
One way to get more awe into our lives is to barrow it from others. That’s right, turns out we can feel awe when we listen to others share their awe stories.
So this month, dive into some viarious awe. Here’s your assignment:
Collect Five Stories of Awe
Anyone is fair game. Life Partners. Parents. Siblings. Neighbors. Co-workers. Even strangers! Take them out for coffee or just ask if they have 5 minutes. Sure, you’ll be nervous. It’s a peculiar thing to ask people about. But trust us, everybody’s got a great awe story, and everybody is secretly dying to share it!
Before you come to your group,
spend a bit of time comparing and contrasting the stories. Which of those
similarities or key differences spoke to you. Where was the gift (or challenge)
in that for you?
Take A Daily Dose of Online Awe
We most often talk about the giant spiritual transformations that awe causes in us. For instance, that moment standing before a solar eclipse after which our entire view of God and ourselves was transformed.
These once-in-a-lifetime infusions of awe are great, but most of us wouldn’t mind a little daily support. Every single day we get stuck in our heads. Every afternoon we feel more numb than we’d like by day-to-day drudgery. And every evening it’s hard to put our petty, self-centered worries into wider perspective. Who of us wouldn’t benefit from a bit of awe every 24 hours?!
So this month, let’s all give ourselves the gift of a daily dose of awe. Think of it as taking a regular “Awe Break.” Put everything down for just a few minutes and let awe soak in.
To make it easy for you, we’ve put together 31 online doses of awe. One awe-filled YouTube video for each day of the 31 days of December. It’s a lot like those advent calendars some of us had as kids. We’d peel back the cardboard door, discover some magical new gift and our entire day would be transformed.
Here’s the link to the YouTube playlist that contains all 31 of the videos:
If you’re having a particularly hard day, feel free to cheat and watch a couple of them.
The goal is to see if these daily doses really change your days. We bet they do!
Remember the Awe of All You Are
It’s not easy to look at ourselves with awe. Awe is reserved for majestic objects outside us. But, as poet Joy Harjo reminds us, the most breathtaking and life-transforming experiences come from remembering that there isn’t really a separation between that which is “out there” and us. We are connected to the awesome world around us. Those relationships make up our “larger self.” And noticing that larger self is one of the most humbling and awe-filled experiences we can have.
So this month, let Joy Harjo lead you through the awe of your larger self, through the awe of all you are. Here’s how:
- Read over Harjo’s poem, Remember, numerous times: https://poets.org/poem/remember-0 (Another creative version here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vE4yRvaW17o)
- Notice how each line represents a different part of your larger self.
- Then, following each line, one by one, find a way to engage and honor each of those various parts of yourself.
In other words, treat her poem as
a list: the sky, the sun, your birth, the wind, the earth, language. Use the
month to create a moment of connection with each, using Harjo’s words to help
you notice how each is a dimension of you.
An Hour of Stillness
Often the easiest way to encounter awe is just to sit still. And December offers so many perfect moments to sit back and soak in awe. Put on a jacket and sit on your stoop and watch the snow fall for an hour. Go to the park and sit on a bench watching the neighborhood kids sled down the giant hill, like you used to decades ago. Take an hour to look up at the stars while your favorite classical album plays in your earphones. Take a seat in the corner of the family holiday gathering and just watch the joy and love ping pong back and forth.
The aim is to sit back and still long enough to watch some piece of life unfold before you. In its unfolding, awe inevitably shows its face.
Find Awe in Our Recommended Resources
Our recommended resources are full of wisdom about what it means to be a people of and a person of awe. Engaging these resources and finding the one that especially speaks to you is a spiritual practice in and of itself.
So, if none of the above exercises call to you, engage the recommended resources section of this packet as your spiritual exercise for the month.
Set aside some regular time
throughout a week to go through them and meditate on them until you find the
one that most expands or deepens your understanding of awe. After you’ve found
it, consider printing it out and carrying it with you or pinning it up so you
can continue to reflect on it throughout the weeks leading up to your group
meeting. Come to your group ready to share where the journey led you.
As always, don’t treat these questions like “homework” or try to answer every single one. Instead, make time to meditate on the list and then pick the one question that speaks to you most. The goal is to figure out which question is “yours.” Which question captures the call of your inner voice? Which one contains “your work”? And what is that question trying to get you to notice or acknowledge? Often it helps to read the list to a friend or loved one and ask them which one they think is the question you need to wrestle with!
- Who taught you the most about “living in awe”?
- Has age impeded or assisted awe for you?
- How as the location of awe changed for you over time? Has it shifted from the stars to the woods? From the birth of planets to the birth of your child? From the physical feats your body allows to the storied wrinkles of your hand? What now leaves you most in awe when you look at it?
- Have you ever turned to the stars for support? Comfort? Escape? Connection?
- Is awe calling you to feel smaller or bigger?
- What if we need awe to be good?
- Have you ever sat in the middle of nature and it suddenly came to life? What gift did that experience leave you with?
- Is it possible that awe is where God is found?
- Do you most often complain about your body or stand in awe of it?
- When was the last time you stood in awe of your life partner?
- When was the last time you stood in awe of your child?
- Can you imagine someone standing in awe of you?
- What’s your question? Your question may not be listed above. As always, if the above questions don’t include what life is asking from you, spend the month listening to your days to hear it. Or maybe the question or call you need to hear is waiting in one of the quotes listed below. Consider looking there!