This month's theme in worship and small group ministry is “Awe.”
What is awe, and what does this human capacity do for us that we can’t just do for ourselves? Researchers tell us that the hallmark of awe, which is rare and therefore wonderful, is that it redirects our attention and leaves us with a different sense of time. After a truly awesome experience, we’re less stressed and more tuned in to and appreciative of ordinary life.
Some believe that our capacity for awe begins when we’re toddlers. Around a year old, toddlers wobble when they walk. Six months later they toddle because they stop to investigate seemingly every flower in the garden, every paper clip and piece of lint on the floor, and more. As a result, we put small, or breakable things up high and plug up the electrical sockets; we want them to be able to safely explore the wonder of all these new and fascinating things. A day with a toddler is exhausting, but it also can leave you with new appreciation for life’s engaging mysteries and tremendous beauty.
Awe is a human experience that sometimes erases our sense of self. The “I” that witnesses something truly awesome absolutely is “myself,” but it’s not exactly the same “I” who experiences my normal, daily routines. And when your attention does shift back to normal mode, you might have a sense of feeling both small and yet of being part of something larger than yourself—an expanded sense of reality, consciousness, or the natural, physical world. Scientists report having these kind of experiences when they contemplate their experiments, as do other people who are just going about their normal daily business. And again, our sense of time is altered. We’re less stressed and feel less need to rush.
We can cultivate our capacity for awe by paying attention. We can learn from toddlers and scientists to pay close attention to what’s immediately before us, and what our senses bring us. When we do this we have an immediate experience instead of a removed experience filtered through our memories of past encounters. When we meet the world with this kind of fresh attention, we find that the world refreshes us in return. We’re less stressed and more present to our actual lived experience of life.
Maybe that’s where toddlers get their endless energy? Who knows? But to find out, I could begin by simply paying attention.