Being in Awe and Wonder

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Our first response to works of God is awe. The second is wonder. And the third is thanksgiving. This morning I rose early and went into my office to start my morning prayers as usual. I opened the blinds to another beautiful, sunny morning, but off in the distance, I saw the top of a single cumulus cloud beginning to rise in the distance. It was just becoming visible over the pine covered hill to the south of our house. It was lit by the rising sun. It was a brilliant white against the blue of the sky, and was tinged at the edges with salmon-colored dawn hues. As I continued my morning prayer, I would look out every now and then, watching that cloud grow in height, becoming more massive by the moment in the morning sun. I couldn’t believe how swiftly it grew. Then, I noticed another begin to rise above the trees a bit more to the southwest. My awe grew along with those clouds. It was only an hour later when the first rumbles of thunder became discernible. And not much longer, before those distant rumbles were directly overhead and their sound and force shook the whole area. Talk about awe! And I became aware of the fact that my mind was repeating the same words over and over again: ʺListen and know that I am your God.ʺ Awe!

ʺHow many, O Lord my God,
Are the wonders and designs
That you have worked for us;
You have no equal.
Should I wish to proclaim or speak of them,
They would be more than I can tell.ʺ

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The wonders of nature humble us. Things like thunder, mighty winds, crashing waves, earthquakes, these things humble us all. And so does the beauty of nature flowering forth in the spring. Each tiny blossom or extravagant flower, as Jesus tells us, humbles all of Solomon’s fine raiments. The melodic bird songs that fill the air throughout the day are simple, clear, resonant, cantos to joy. The innocence of a newborn, the intense reality of human relationships and, yes, the wonder of death, all of these things draw our minds beyond ourselves, literally outside of ourselves, and make us realize how small we are in the universe.

Yet how graced we are to be able to see, hear, smell, taste and touch and be touched by all of these things. How privileged we are to have minds that can be so moved by these things as to begin to ponder the transcendent, that which is greater than ourselves. How often have these existential realities turned our worlds upside down? Made us change? Made us grow larger and more selfless than we could have ever imagined? And has not that new found humility saved us from the terrible, always potential errors of pride?

It is our faith that deepens our capacities for wonder and awe. It is our faith that turns our minds toward the One who is the Creator of all that is seen and unseen, who is the Ground of Being itself, out of whom all things come to be. With the eyes of faith we can see God’s hand at work in and through all of creation, and in every human face. We can begin to see his ineffable wisdom revealed in the vastness of the universe as well as in the minute, microscopic complexity of the infinitely small subatomic realm. And it is because of our faith that we understand that our only truly appropriate attitude toward all of creation, including ourselves, is thanksgiving.

That, then, is our Christian worldview in a nutshell. With the apostle Paul, we can say: ʺGive thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.ʺ (1 Corinthians 16: 34)

Or with the psalmist, we can say: ʺI praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.ʺ (Psalm 139: 14)

Let all of our prayers begin then in awe and wonder and end in thanksgiving. When we can pray like this, our petitions for God’s aid will be less desperate. For, in faith, in awe and wonder, we know that God is great. And the pinnacle of his greatness was expressed in the infinite awe and wonder that is the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is reason enough for our constant, humble and awed thanksgiving. Amen.

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.