Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Experiencing Awe and Fostering It in Others

Susan Beaumont, a senior consultant with the Alban Institute, shares in her newest article research on the benefits of the human experience of awe and reflects on ways of fostering awe in people.  See the article here:  Beaumont writes how awe is inspired by beauty.  Experiences of awe draw us out of ourselves, cause us to pause to take notice and recognize we are but a small part of something much bigger than ourselves.

Overlook at Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore
Awe is what draws us to visit National Parks this time of year.  They are national treasures.  Over the years, I've visited many of them.  Whether it is watching Old Faithful at Yellowstone in Wyoming; standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona and trying to comprehend what eyes see; hiking trails at Zion in Utah; taking in the grandeur of Yosemite in California; driving in dizzying high altitudes of Glacier in Montana, and Rocky Mountain in Colorado; sitting by a campfire in the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, or being socked in the fog at Acadia in Maine, something special happens deep in us at these places. Here in Michigan, we have the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  Standing on the top of Sleeping Bear dune and looking out over Lake Michigan recalibrates perspective.

It was ten years ago when I sensed God calling me to something new.  It was about this time of year when I first learned about the Presbytery of Lake Michigan and its search for a general presbyter.  Part of a new call includes the grief work for what is being left behind.  I wrestled with my attachments to the Montauk Community Church, the community and friends there, whom I loved. There was for me the added grief of leaving the awe inspiring landscape there.  To be blunt, who doesn't love a water view?  I had the extraordinary privilege and honor to serve that oceanside fishing, resort community.  They provided me with a manse with a ocean view! With a five minute walk to the beach!!  With an ocean view from my church office desk!!!  They paid me to live there!!!!  What can I say?  Yet, after eleven years of ministry there, God had something new in mind for me.  And the Presbytery has kept me busy enough ever since not to think too much about it.

Life is not all a mountaintop experience.  God calls us forth to serve.  However, my experience in Montauk taught me about awe.  Unless one is spiritually dead, no one enters Montauk without experiencing a sense of awe.  When one drives into this village from the west on Montauk Highway, all of a sudden an ocean view opens before your eyes.  The universal response of residents and visitors alike is a wonderful sense of awe, joy, peace...recalibration.  Getting to Montauk takes some effort, can be tiring and frustrating.  All that instantly evaporates.  You say to yourself, "OK, this is why I'm here."

During my tenure in Montauk, I had the chance to visit Iona.  I learned there the Celtic concept for this. They call it "a thin place where the distance between heaven and earth is tissue thin."  This gave me language for what my Montauk neighbors knew instinctively and helped me connect with them.  Stricken by the natural beautiful of the place, I led vesper services during the summer at public overlooks where we marveled at the sunset over the water.  I led prayer walks on the hiking trails, stopping here and there to reflect on something we noticed and to break into song, giving thanks to God.  For two summers, I led a 7 a.m. Sunday service on a popular resort terrace overlooking the Atlantic.  With the financial help of the Presbytery, I invited Dennis Dewey, a gifted Biblical story teller to come for a week.  We set him up at various public places where he told water and fish stories from the Bible.  The magic draw of the storyteller attracted a crowd at each site.  At the Lighthouse he led us responsively with Psalm 136, the crowd responding with the refrain, "for his steadfast love endures forever."  At the harbor docks he told the story of Jonah and the call of Peter, Andrew, John and James.   On the beach he told the story of the risen Jesus making breakfast for the disciples.  At the village green, the story of feeding of the five thousand.

What moves you in awe?  How do you foster the experience of awe in others?  Please do read Susan Beaumont's article and be blessed.
And have an awe filled "Awegust."

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