David's Desk is my opportunity to share thoughts and tools for the spiritual journey. These letters are my personal insights and opinions and do not necessarily reflect the sentiments or thoughts of any other person in Lorian or of Lorian as a whole. If you wish to share this letter with others, please feel free to do so; however, the material is ©2019 by David Spangler. If you no longer wish to receive these letters, please let us know at info@Lorian.org.
First and most importantly, may I wish you and yours a most blessed and wonderful New Year. We are upheld throughout the year by the good wishes and kindnesses we give to each other. The world these days is filled with troubling news and images. The support we share is especially important. Goodwill and a kind heart go a long way to empowering each of us and help to heal the ills that may surround us.
New Years is traditionally a time for looking ahead and making wishes for the year to come. In this spirit, I wish for a resurgence of awe, a renewed sense of wonder and delighted astonishment at the world that surrounds us.
The idea of awe is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, awe can inspire fear; it’s why the word “awful” has come to mean something dreadful. On the other hand, awe can also mean something uplifting, filling us with reverence.
As a young man, my father had an ambition to become a medical missionary working in Africa. He was inspired by the example of Dr. Albert Schweitzer, a theologian and doctor whose philosophy of “Reverence for Life” earned him a Nobel Peace Prize in 1952. Dad’s life took a different turn and he never fulfilled that ambition, but reverence for life was always a guiding principle for him and our family.
As we look out at the world today, it is apparent that we do not revere it as it deserves, nor, in our time of divisiveness and discontent, do we revere each other or ourselves as fully as we could. We lack awe in the face of the miracles around us and within us.
Awe opens our hearts. For many of us, feeling the stresses of modern life, opening up may be the last thing we want to do. Instead, we seek protection, safety, walls, separation into like-minded enclaves where we will not be challenged by what is different. But the paradox is that it is only openness that will save us from the perils that beset us and put us on a path to wholeness.
Such openness is not without discrimination; it is not without wisdom. It is not openness for its own sake but an open heartedness grounded in a recognition of the awesomeness present in each of us and in the whole of life. It is an awesomeness that should be honored, cherished, protected, and nourished in all the places we find it, which, if we bother to look, is just about everywhere and in everyone.
To find the awe in my world, I need to engage this world directly. I need to be present to it in whatever way is available to me. It is one thing to be awe-struck at the beauty and wonder of the earth as presented in television shows such as Planet Earth, but in a way, this is second-hand awe. Seeing the Grand Canyon in a picture or on a screen can fill me with its beauty and awesomeness, but what I need is to stand in my backyard and feel the same thing. It’s a mutt of a backyard, messy around the edges, parts of it surrendered to the plants we call “weeds,” an unpretentious, friendly, comfortable place belonging as much to the crows and local rabbits as to us. Tourists do not flock to stand on our back porch and ooh and aw as they do for the Grand Canyon (for which, by the way, I am grateful!); in an ordinary sense, there is nothing at all awesome about it.
But appearances are deceptive, for it and all the ordinary backyards—and front yards, too—of our neighborhood are filled with life. They are all small ecosystems in which the same processes that give me life and make this a living world are at work. If I think about it and step out of my human expectations and ideas to feel the life around me, then my backyard truly does become an awesome place.
What is vital here, though, is that this is an awesomeness that includes me. I am not simply an observer. I am a participant in the wonder, for I, too, am a living being, a member of the community of life. The heart-opening awe I feel brings with it inclusiveness.
It’s not just something stimulating to my mind or my emotions, such as seeing the Grand Canyon or some other natural wonder on television. It is an awe in which my body participates, an awe that connects me to the world around me in a physical, felt-sense way. A screen doesn’t do this. A photograph doesn’t do this. It needs us to be present in an embodied way.
The paradox is that for this awe to fill my being and sweep me up into its embrace, I have to let go of ideas like “awe,” “special,” “ordinary,” “familiar,” “wonderment,” and just be present to the connectedness my body—indeed, my whole being—feels. Awe is a portal, not a destination. It opens us to being part of the wholeness of the world and thus whole ourselves, filled with reverence for the earth, for life, for ourselves, and for each other, and for all that we can co-create in partnership.
It is this partnership, this reverence, this love, this awe that our world needs—that we need. The true wonder is that it is all around us in the seeming ordinariness of our world and our daily lives. It is we who drive awe away by assigning it only to special times and places. It is we who can invite it back again, in the processes discovering insights through which we may revision, reclaim, and recreate the wholeness of ourselves and our world. This is a calling worthy of a New Year’s Resolution! May 2019 be the Year of Awe!
In this spirit, may awe fill your life this year…and all the years to come.