Why sacred awe?

It took me a while to come up with a fitting name for this blog. I spent some time thinking about various expressions and metaphors of interconnectedness, sustainability, and hope that appealed to me, and might serve well as a title. Many of those were Native American: the idea of living in harmony with “all my relations,” mitakuye oyasin; or walking and traveling as a metaphor for living, as we find in the phrase “walking the good red road,” or in the Navajo “walking in beauty”; or the inspiring words of the Hopi elders: “The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” I first encountered that phrase — we are the ones we’ve been waiting for — in a song by Cori Rose Benitez, and it struck me as a beautiful, deep acknowledgment of our personal power to transform ourselves and the world.

The Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam, of repairing the broken and shattered world, and the notion that each of us has a role to play in that process, has been a motivating vision for me. Also, theologian Matthew Fox’s 95 Theses or Articles of Faith for a Christianity of the Third Millennium has been an inspiration. I read his 95 theses again today and there encountered the phrase “sacred awe” in his 87th thesis: “Authentic science can and must be one of humanity’s sources of wisdom for it is a source of sacred awe, of childlike wonder, and of truth.” That was it. I had found my name for this blog.

I often find myself wondering what it is that humanity needs most. Is it love, or wisdom, or compassion? Is there any single need that can be seen as encompassing all the others? Probably not. But is there a need that is particularly neglected and essential, at this point in time? Love is so little understood. So much injustice can be done in the name of wisdom. Compassion is vital, but for most of us, its scope seems limited to relationships with other sentient beings. (Can we be compassionate towards a stone? I’m sure, but…) Often, seeing the destruction and the uniformity and ugliness of the modern industrial world, I would say that our greatest need is beauty. A beautiful world is one in which we love and nurture each other, a world where we live in wisdom and with compassion, a world in which we are valued and have something to contribute, to bring wholeness to the world. I think that’s pretty universal. The more receptive we are to beauty, the more likely we are to feel a connection with others, and the more likely we are, I think, to feel compassion for a stone.

However, to be truly open to beauty, we need to possess a capacity of awe. I think awe may be our most essential need right now because it’s so radical. If we are in awe of other human beings, and allow ourselves to honour the mystery of them, can we possibly conceive of killing them, of allowing them to go without the most basic sustenance, of living lives deprived of happiness? Awe (which basks in mystery) is completely at odds with fundamentalism (which seeks certainty). Awe allows us to experience beauty, humility, love of mystery, and acceptance of fear. I think awe brings us to love, compassion, that sense of social justice, and finally… wisdom. Abraham Heschel wrote something both psychologically and spiritually profound: “Indifference to the sublime wonder of living is the root of sin.”

Awe is (in part) about overcoming the dichotomies of child/adult, and work/play. Most of us don’t remember how to be childlike. We’re too busy working, worrying, and taking everything seriously. The vast majority of us don’t like our work. We don’t find any play in it. Often, we’ve also forgotten how to play: we come home from work and don’t want to do anything but watch television. I think revisioning education — which is one of the first things that teaches us to separate work and play — is going to be one of the first steps towards integrating them. And that, I believe, is at the root of social change, and our hope for a positive future.

The Master in the art of living makes little distinction between her work and her play
her labor and her leisure, her mind and her body
her education and her recreation, her love and her religion.
She hardly knows which is which.
She simply pursues her vision of excellence in whatever she does,
leaving others to decide whether she is working or playing.
To her she is always doing both.

— Zen Buddhist text

It’s so inspiring to me whenever I find people who successfully overcome this dichotomy: people who love what they do, and do what they love. Unfortunately most of us are conditioned to believe that we need to “get down to business,” that play is what we’ve done after we’ve worked long and hard. I think that kills spirit.

More and more, people are seeking out new ways of relating to each other and the world around them, but I’ve yet to see anyone adequately describe this cultural shift. There is the term “cultural creatives” but no single term feels expansive enough. People are beginning to understand that creative solutions to our problems are needed more than partisan and ideological ones; yet we can’t be defined by the solutions we offer to these problems, because the myriad solutions we have offered are as diverse as we are. We are not a movement in the traditional sense. We are simply seekers who feel inside of ourselves that a change is necessary. We feel the call to start respecting the web of life and celebrating its diversity. We understand that we are part of that web of life, and that all our actions affect it. We are becoming sensitive to the ways in which our actions affect others, and the ways in which it’s difficult to impossible to avoid being complicit in our culture. So, we envision alternative social structures which respect diversity and the web of life, and we seek to create our own lives in accordance with our values. This is happening… I think we’re rediscovering the importance of awe.

I’d enjoy hearing what metaphors, images, and ideas inspire you to envision a better world.


~ by dewiniaeth on January 30, 2007.

10 Responses to “Why sacred awe?”

  1. Pleased to meet you,

    I suspect and hope that I will bump into you else where
    in our cyberian wanderings.

    I am happy to see you sharing your ideas and that they
    are reflective of many of mine. Of course I wouldn’t want
    everyone to be the same and I am glad that we are not all
    the same.

    This brings me to a thought on something that inspires me
    to envision a better world. Aside from what you have said,
    I think that communication and empowering others is a key
    component to a better life and a better world. Creating
    an atmosphere where everyone feels safe to be them self
    and to speak their mind.

    Thats it for now, glad to have meet you,

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    Where are you? Do you still search for the light? Do you write here – or have you disappeared? Gone stale, gone fishing or meditate? I would love to hear from you, soul brother!

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