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Posted by on Jul 3, 2012

The Seventh Gift: Awe and Wonder (Fear of the Lord)

The Seventh Gift: Awe and Wonder (Fear of the Lord)

Baby Galaxies in the Night Sky

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.


Red Fox

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 – public domain.
Image of Baby Galaxies from NASA – public domain.

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Posted by on Oct 4, 2008

The Seventh Gift: Awe and Wonder (Fear of the Lord)

Saint of the Day – St. Francis of Assisi – October 4


St. Francis of Assisi window – St. Joseph’s Monastery in Aptos, CA – Artist: Susan Wagner

October 4 is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. Francis was born in Assisi, Italy in about 1182 and died at the Porziuncola, a chapel outside Assisi’s walls, in 1226. He is one of the best known saints, founder of the Order of Friars Minor or Franciscans, the Poor Ladies or Order of St. Clare  (Poor Clares – founded with St. Clare of Assisi) and the Third Order Franciscans, including lay men and women who also wanted to live in accordance with the Gospels in a Franciscan manner. There are many sub-groups of Franciscans.

Brother Bill Short, OFM  of the Franciscan School of Theology, Berkeley, CA has developed an excellent series of lectures on the life and times of St. Francis. I listened to it recently and was fascinated with the richness of detail he included about the culture and history of the times, as well as the people who each played a part in the story of St. Francis.

I asked Brother Bill and a few others for reflections on St. Francis for his feast – one thing they would like people to know about him. I received these responses.

From Brother Bill:

Something (one thing) I would like people to know about St. Francis – hmmmm, there’s an embarrassment of riches.  Let me try this:
Francis was rather alarmed by the notion that people might think he was some kind of saint.  In a fairly reliable account from companions who travelled with him, recounted some fifteen years after his death, they remember that on travelling through a town in Tuscany, a man pleaded with Francis to pray that his wife would be freed from an evil spirit that was making her cry out, disturbing the neighbors.  Francis seemed pretty skeptical, but finally agreed to go to the house, along with three companions.  He stationed them in three corners of the room where the woman was ranting, while he took one corner for himself.  They all prayed, and the woman stopped shrieking, apparently healed.  The husband thanked Francis profusely, but Francis seemed in a hurry to move along.  Some time later he passed through the same town with Brother Elias (his vicar) and the woman came rushing out to thank him.  He still seemed reluctant to accept her story, but finally agreed that she had been freed from her problem – but he was very clear that four brothers had prayed for her (including him) and who knew which prayer God had answered?  That’s good, practical humility, I think.
I like the story because it shows Francis as someone with a pretty shrewd sense of “phonies,” and a cautious approach to anyone (including himself!) being considered a saint during their own lifetime.

From Sr. Krista Aitkin of St. Joseph’s Monastery in Aptos, CA

St. Francis of Assisi is a spirit and a way of life.  His spirit and his way of living are reality lived,  not an idea or ideal, or even a formula.  Everything about St. Francis is an invitation to practice.  He is not locked into “a system.”  He lives reality through devotion toward others,  respect for the poor and for all of God’s creation.  In short,  St. Francis lives in and through the Word of God.  His charism is not linked to a particular apostolate,  but is focused on “becoming” rather than “producing,”  on one spirituality – putting on Christ,  who called himself the way,  the truth,  and our life.

Thank you to Brother Bill and Sr. Krista for your responses to my question and for sharing your love of St. Francis with me. May the Lord continue to bless you richly.

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Posted by on Oct 4, 2007

The Seventh Gift: Awe and Wonder (Fear of the Lord)

Saint of the Day – St. Francis of Assisi

October 4 is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226). I once heard a priest ( a non-Franciscan) say that St. Francis was one of the great religious figures of all time. Francis left a life of privilege and comfort to adopt a radical Christian lifestyle of poverty and service to the poor. Francis became the reluctant head of a major religious movement of men and women. Today he is revered by Christians and non-Christians around the world as a model of peace, humility, and compassion.

Francis was one of seven children and he was baptized Giovanni di Bernadone. His parents were Pietro di Bernardone and Pica Bourlemont. His father called him Francesco – an apparent reference to his mother’s French heritage. Francis’ father was a successful cloth merchant and Francis had the benefit of a good education. He ran with a group of young well-to-do friends who spent their time drinking, partying, and chasing women. From time to time his charity got the better of him, and his friends – as well as his father – mocked him for his foolishness in giving to the needy.

The story of his conversion is a gradual one involving a year in Perugia as a prisoner of war, illness, and a constant sense of calling. Franco Zefirelli’s film biography of St. Francis, “Brother Son, Sister Moon” (1973), presents a young idealistic, impractical man. To many, Zefirelli’s St. Francis was a hippie. As “mature” (read “jaded”) sophisticates, it is easy to be condescending to St. Francis as portrayed by his biographers and the facts of his actual life. However, if we dismiss St. Francis as a gentle fool, we do so to his model – Christ.

The early impact of St. Francis on the Church was to renew personal devotion to Christ as the Incarnate Word dwelling with us. He invented the “creche,” or nativity scene, as an opportunity and aid to contemplation of the human birth of God in poverty to the powerless of the world. Service to the outcast – lepers, the homeless, the mentally ill, the destitute – became service to Christ in our midst. The presence of God in His creation and all life forms, is a hallmark of his spirituality. St. Francis’ tangible sense of God would continue to ripple down the centuries, not only through members of the Franciscan family – St. Bonaventure and John Duns Scotus – but also St. Dominic, St, Thomas Aquinas, St. Ignatius Loyola, and St. Vincent de Paul. The work of Franciscan Fr. Richard Rohr is a good example of the spirituality of St. Francis today. The life and example of St. Francis permeates western Christianity – both Catholic and Protestant – in such a way that it is difficult to conceive of Christianity without him.

Today, St. Francis is important to people around the world facing issues of hunger, nuclear war, and environmental collapse. Every year in September in Assisi, the United Nations holds a peace conference and Pope John Paul II led inter-faith peace services on more than one occasion. St. Francis continues to challenge those who are religious and mystical to encounter the living God in the messiness of everyday life and problems which seem completely beyond our control.

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