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Center for Action and Contemplation
Awe and Amazement
Awe and Amazement

Willing to Be Amazed

Sunday, December 3, 2023

First Sunday of Advent

The roots of ultimate insights are found … on the level of wonder and radical amazement, in the depth of awe, in our sensitivity to the mystery.
—Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man

Richard Rohr teaches that awe, wonder, and amazement are foundational spiritual experiences:

I believe the basic, primal, foundational religious intuition is a moment of awe and wonder. We say, “God, that’s beautiful!” Why do we so often say “God!” when we have such moments? I think it’s a recognition that this is a godly moment. We are somehow aware that something is just too good, too right, too much, too timely. When awe and wonder are absent from our life, we build our religion on laws and rituals, trying to manufacture some moment of awe. It works occasionally, I guess.

I think people who live their lives open to awe and wonder have a much greater chance of meeting the Holy than someone who just goes to church but doesn’t live in an open way. We almost domesticate the Holy by making it so commonplace. That’s what I fear happens with the way we ritualize worship. I see people come to church day after day unprepared for anything new or different. Even if something new or different happens, they fit it into their old boxes. Their stance seems to be, “I will not be awestruck.” I don’t think we get very far with that kind of resistance to the new, the Real, and the amazing. That’s probably why God allows most of our great relationships to begin with a kind of infatuation with another person—and I don’t just mean sexual infatuation, but a deep admiration or appreciation. It allows us to take our place as a student and learner. If we never do that, nothing new is going to happen. [1]

I think Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn understood this when he wrote, “the Western system in its present state of spiritual exhaustion does not look attractive.” [2] It’s a telling judgment. The Western mind almost refuses to be in awe anymore. It’s only aware of what is wrong, and seemingly incapable of rejoicing in what is still good and true and beautiful. The only way out is through a new imagination and new cosmology, created by positive God-experience. Education, problem-solving, and rigid ideology are all finally inadequate by themselves to create cosmic hope and meaning. Only great religion can do that, which is probably why Jesus spent so much of his ministry trying to reform religion.

Healthy religion gives us a foundational sense of awe. It re-enchants an otherwise empty universe. It gives people a universal reverence toward all things. Only with such reverence do we find confidence and coherence. Only then does the world become a safe home. Then we can see the reflection of the divine image in the human, in the animal, in the entire natural world—which has now become inherently “supernatural.” [3]

[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr, “The Practice of Awe and Wonder,” in Another Name for Every Thing, season 3, ep. 10 (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2020), podcast, MP3 audio.

[2] Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “Harvard Address,” in The Solzhenitsyn Reader: New and Essential Writings, 1947–2005, ed. Edward E. Ericson, Jr. and Daniel J. Mahoney (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2006), 569.

[3] Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Disorder, Reorder (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2001, 2020), 65.

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 was an evangelical Christian for 40 years. I became concerned that my faith community was not affirming and including all people equally and without condition. It made me step away from my church—the place I had considered to be my spiritual home for most of my life. Connecting with Fr. Rohr through his books, podcasts, and now these Daily Meditations has enriched my life and expanded my vision. It has also reacquainted me with a very precious thing: my awe and wonder at God’s creation. I believe we need a language of inclusion, and that’s what I experience in the CAC’s material. Thank you.
—Stuart B.

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