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Center for Action and Contemplation
Awe and Amazement
Awe and Amazement

The Privilege of Life Itself

Friday, December 8, 2023

CAC teacher Brian McLaren identifies awe and wonder as essential to encountering creation: 

The first pages of the Bible and the best thinking of today’s scientists are in full agreement: it all began in the beginning, when space and time, energy and matter, gravity and light, burst or bloomed or banged into being. In light of the Genesis story, we would say that the possibility of this universe overflowed into actuality as God, the Creative Spirit, uttered the original joyful invitation: Let it be! And in response, what happened? Light. Time. Space. Matter. Motion. Sea. Stone. Fish. Sparrow. You. Me. Enjoying the unspeakable gift and privilege of being here, being alive…. 

The Creator brought it all into being, and now some fourteen billion years later, here we find ourselves: dancers in this beautiful, mysterious choreography that expands and evolves and includes us all. We’re farmers and engineers, parents and students, theologians and scientists, teachers and shopkeepers, builders and fixers, drivers and doctors, dads and moms, wise grandparents and wide-eyed infants.  

Don’t we all feel like poets when we try to speak of the beauty and wonder of this creation? Don’t we share a common amazement about our cosmic neighborhood when we wake up to the fact that we’re actually here, actually alive, right now?… 

The romance of Creator and creation is far more wonderful and profound than anyone can ever capture in words. And yet we try, for how could we be silent in the presence of such beauty, glory, wonder, and mystery? How can we not celebrate this great gift—to be alive?  

To be alive is to look up at the stars …. and to feel the beyond-words awe of space in its vastness. To be alive is to look down from a mountaintop …. and to feel the wonder that can only be expressed in “oh” or “wow” or maybe “hallelujah.” To be alive is to look out from the beach toward the horizon at sunrise or sunset and to savor the joy of it all in pregnant, saturated silence. [It’s] to gaze in delight at a single bird, tree, leaf, or friend, and to feel that they whisper of a creator or source we all share.  

Genesis means “beginnings.” It speaks through deep, multilayered poetry and wild, ancient stories. The poetry and stories of Genesis reveal deep truths that can help us be more fully alive today. They dare to proclaim that the universe is God’s self-expression, God’s speech act. That means that everything everywhere is always essentially holy, spiritual, valuable, meaningful. All matter matters…. 

Genesis describes the “very goodness” that comes at the end of a long process of creation…. That harmonious whole is so good that the Creator takes a day off, as it were, just to enjoy it. That day of restful enjoyment tells us that the purpose of existence isn’t money or power or fame or security or anything less than this: to participate in the goodness and beauty and aliveness of creation.  


Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation (New York: Jericho Books, 2014), 3, 4–5, 5–6.  

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:  

I have been a Trappist monk for 40 years. I have experimented with many different exercises of prayer and contemplation. A bit late in life, I discovered a much simpler way of entering contemplative stillness. I call it the prayer of “Marvelling.” It’s simply this: let yourself be overcome with awe while observing a simple object or thing. It could be anything—a flower, bird, a running stream, a human smile, or even one’s own hand. The exercise is to simply visually cherish what is before you. I have often encountered God in this way, most often, out in the world—well outside our monastic chapel. God bless the CAC for your inclusive, spiritual approaches to fundamental tenants of our beliefs. —Stephan H.

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