When I stare at the night sky, especially if I am out in the country, I get almost overwhelmed at the immensity of the universe. I am in awe of the beauty of the stars and then amazed at a God who can create and manage such an enormous and complex reality and yet be with me personally. One billion galaxies! Possibly two billion.
Even if a person does not believe in God as the reality defined in traditional religious terms, the beauty of the night sky, the roar of water down a canyon, the amazing chatter of birds and animals can take the breath away — almost bring one to tears.
The gift of AWE AND WONDER helps us to know and to feel that God is the fulfillment of everything we desire. That there exists perfect love — perfect knowledge, goodness, power, action, discretion, justice, healing. With this gift we perceive the mystery that God is. We realize that there is an aspect of the Sacred, the transcendent, that we cannot know on this side of death, but that we get glimpses of such majesty and glory. We see that God can know, interact with, and sustain billions of people. It’s amazing. You either believe it or you don’t. If you believe in such a possibility then it is mind blowing. My particularities matter. I am fully known. Nothing is impossible.
In 1974 When Annie Dillard published Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, it made two inaccessible worlds available to an entirely new audience. The first world was the natural world known in a scientific way. All of a sudden cells and their biochemistry, ecosystems, the interdependence of species, and the rhythms of nature were explained in lay terms and could be understood and celebrated. Secondly, this joy and excitement was not just intellectual but also solidly spiritual. There was no separation of the secular from the sacred. The world was whole and we felt whole in it. How nice! My body and the whole physical realm was God’s love and creativity writ big in the awesome processes of life in mitochondria, chloroplasts, T cells, blood, genes, the periodic table, and atomic particles.
Dillard took all the lovely words, images and sounds of a poet like Gerard Manley Hopkinsand showed us the genius of God, down to the most minute details. Hopkins’ dramatic words: grandeur, greatness, ooze, dearest freshness, dappled, brinded, original, spare, and strange now showed the grandeur of God as Dillard explained the incredible scientific reality of ooze and freshness, dappled and brinded. She also opened up very wide the whole subject of suffering and death and gave the reader a new perspective on the meaning and purposes of both. As a spiritually anemic graduate student, I soaked up the theology of Dillard’s book and saw for the first time the consistency of God in the natural and supernatural realms. How could God have a cycle of growth, disintegration and integration in the natural realm and not have one in the spiritual realm? What was all that talk of planting, pruning, cultivating and harvesting in the Bible all about if God was not also doing it in society and in my soul? And was God a genius in nature and then mindless and distant in the spiritual world? No, we can and do find God in the wonder of the universe and in the many parallel things we know in our lives.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning speaks of awe when she says, “Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees takes off his shoes.” Having Awe and Wonder is not automatic. It is a gift. We can be so over-indulged or over-stimulated that we miss beauty or grandeur. Last Sunday morning I saw a small fox trot by a glass door of a building where I was in a meeting. It was very close. The sun was shining through its translucent tail all colorful and fluffy. What a pointy nose and whiskers! Wonderful round dark eyes. Such a lovely animal. So light on its feet. I couldn’t dismiss it. It made my day. God is near.
The fox looked back at us as he or she trotted on. I wanted to go with it as it ran into the woods. In Psalm 139 it says that we are wonderfully made. Yes, we are. Sometimes squirrely and difficult; other times sleek and dolphin-like. But we are all wonderfully made, “The work of his hands.” And, awe, wonder and gratitude are our best response. Hopefully we can at times “Take off our shoes” at the thought of all this splendor. Maybe we can shake off the darkness of this world a little as we drink in “all this juice and all this joy”!
Image of the fox from wpclipart.com – public domain.
Image of Baby Galaxies from NASA – public domain.