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Awe and Amazement
Awe and Amazement

An Awe That Connects

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Author Judy Cannato (1949–2011) emphasizes the importance of amazement as the starting point for contemplation.  

In The Silent Cry German theologian Dorothee Sölle [1929–2003] writes “I think that every discovery of the world plunges us into jubilation, a radical amazement that tears apart the veil of triviality.” [1] When the veil is torn apart and our vision is clear there emerges the recognition that all life is connected—a truth not only revealed by modern science but resonant with ancient mystics. We are all one, connected and contained in a Holy Mystery about which, in all its ineffability, we cannot be indifferent.

Sölle maintains that radical amazement is the starting point for contemplation. Often we think of contemplation as a practice that belongs in the realm of the religious, some esoteric advanced stage of prayer that only the spiritually gifted possess. This is not the case…. The nature of contemplation as I describe it here is one that lies well within the capacity of each of us. To use a familiar phrase, contemplation amounts to “taking a long loving look at the real.”…

The contemplative stance that flows out of radical amazement catches us up in love—the Love that is the Creator of all that is, the Holy Mystery that never ceases to amaze, never ceases to lavish love in us, on us, around us.

Cannato names the difficulty we face trying to recognize and hold on to what’s “real”:

Contemplation is a long loving look at what is real. How often we are fooled by what mimics the real. Indeed, we live in a culture that flaunts the phony and thrives on glittering fabrication. We are so bombarded by the superficial and the trivial that we can lose our bearings and give ourselves over to a way of living that drains us of our humanity. Seduced by the superficial, we lose the very freedom we think all our acquisitions will provide. When we are engaged in the experience and practice of radical amazement, we begin to distinguish between the genuine and the junk. Caught up in contemplative awareness and rooted in love, we begin to break free from cultural confines and embrace the truth that lies at the heart of all reality: We are one.

The invitation to be contemplative is nothing new, but it now carries with it an urgency particular to our time. This call to live contemplatively is offered to everyone. Often we want to relegate such a practice or lifestyle to the “religious” or “spiritual” in our midst, but the simple truth is that we have all been given eyes to see. We simply need to choose to live with vision. What is becoming more apparent by the day is that we must all become contemplatives, not merely in the way we reflect or pray, but in the way we live—awake, alert, engaged, ready to respond in love to the groanings of creation.


[1] Dorothee Sölle, The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance, trans. Barbara and Martin Rumscheidt(Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2001), 89.

Judy Cannato, introduction to Radical Amazement: Contemplative Lessons from Black Holes, Supernovas, and Other Wonders of the Universe (Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books, 2006), 11–13.

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Madison Frambes, Untitled 4, 1, and 7 (detail), 2023, naturally dyed paper and ink, Mexico, used with permission. Click here to enlarge image.

When we are in awe, there are no deeds to be done or words to be said; a simple, ecstatic surrender.

Story from Our Community:  

Recently, I witnessed my great-grandchild (3 years old), who is blind, hold his three-month-old cousin. It was a moment of love and awe. I re-experienced that event in my mind for several weeks afterwards, and it sustained me. I felt that God gave me the gift of that experience to cherish and share with others. For me, contemplative stillness and awe are deeply connected. Both experiences pull me from the ordinary into a place of unexpected joy. Ordinary life is just the gap in between these incredible moments of love. I pray that everyone experiences the same gift of awe and contemplative stillness many times in their lives. Really, it’s how God shows love. —Paul W.

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