March 1 – Wonder, Awe and Inspiration

“As I grow older part of my emotional survival plan must be to actively seek inspiration instead of passively waiting for it to find me.” (Bebe Moore Campbell)

From the fall of 2000 until the Spring of 2010, I worked part time at a Catholic Church. Part of my job there was to be the Confirmation Coordinator, and in that role I worked with 8th graders and their families as they prepared for the Sacrament of Confirmation. I created and ran a series of workshops where they (hopefully) came to understand who they were in relation to their Faith, and why that Faith was important to them as they prepared for the Sacrament.

One of the key sessions each year was about understanding the 7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom, Understanding, Right Judgment, Courage, Knowledge, Reverence, and Wonder and Awe. Today’s quote takes me back to our discussions on that last gift, Wonder and Awe in God’s presence.

As with all of the 7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit, Wonder and Awe has complex theological roots. The Understanding of the Gift has evolved over time, and even what it is called in the modern Church has evolved. One of the key aspects that we focused on was the idea that the incredible power of God was something that should fill all of us with a sense of wonder, that we should be awestruck at the notion of God’s power and love. We then discussed what it meant to be in a state or wonderment and how it might cause us to live differently.

To help them understand what I meant when I talked about the notion of Wonder and Awe, I asked how many of them had ever been to Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, Sleeping Bear Dunes, or any of a list of places that have incredible beauty. Usually there was one hand up in each family present that could witness to the group about the feeling they had the very first time they saw that site. We talked about how when you see something powerful like that for the first time, you cannot help but stand with your jaw dropped, and your eyes wide as you look on at the power and beauty. We talked about that feeling of butterflies that you get when you let yourself experience it all.

Next I asked how many  of them had younger brothers, sisters, cousins or friends. I asked them to think about how children –especially toddlers – see the world. A child sees the world as a wondrous place. Each new thing they discover is exciting and fresh. Whether it is the first time they see a horse up close, walk a city street with tall buildings, or look out the window at a lightning storm, all children see wonder. They live by the notion of Wonder and Awe in God’s presence every day, without ever being told to do so.

As we get older, and we experience more, it takes greater and greater stimulus for us to experience that wonder. Maybe it is a trip to the Grand Canyon, or to the top of a tall building like the Willis Tower in Chicago that sparks our sense of wonder. But in our day to day lives we become desensitized to the wonder that is around us continuously. We would conclude the discussion by saying that a person who had a strong sense of the Gift of Wonder and Awe saw the amazing within the ordinary, that they have a natural, childlike sense of wonder that lives within them.

The truth is that the world around us is filled with inspiration. I agree with the author of this quote that as I get older I have to actively seek inspiration, because it won’t just drop in my lap. I have to have my eyes open in order to see that I am surrounded by inspiring people, places and events every day. The book that is the source of these quotes shows a two-page picture taken from the perspective of a person on a mountain bike rushing through a beautiful, expansive meadow. The juxtaposition of the quote and the picture leads the reader to think in terms of being out more, and going great distances to find their inspiration. Certainly the beauty of the landscape, and the adrenaline rush of riding through it would be very inspirational. But, I think that when seeking inspiration I need look no further than my immediate surroundings.

This winter I have become a person who goes outside only when absolutely necessary. I have been living my life like a semi-hibernated bear, growling at the landscape as I lumber through my daily chores. Because I see snow as something to be removed (and to make my back hurt), I have stopped seeing it as being beautiful. The swell in my chest that I felt on Christmas Eve as a crystal blanket covered the earth has given way to a feeling of dread, or even utter contempt for the evil white mess. Clearly my preference for a beautiful landscape is the lush green of summer. But, there is plenty of beauty, and abundant inspiration to be had in the daily grind of winter as well. I have allowed myself to become desensitized to the beauty, and have replaced my Wonder and Awe with anger and contempt.

Soon (probably not soon enough), Winter will end. The snow will melt, the crocuses will sprout, the grass will get green and trees will bud. Those first few weeks of spring and summer will renew a natural sense of wonder for me. But, I shouldn’t be sitting back waiting for the inspiration to come find me. If I want that wellspring of wonder, awe, and inspiration, then I must not only seek it, but be open to it as well.

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