On the Journey: “Making Room for Awe”

The heavens are telling the glory of God,

and all creation is shouting for joy.

Come, dance in the forest,

come, play in the field,

and sing, sing to the glory of the Lord.

(Marty Haugen “Canticle of the Sun”)

As I write this, I’ve been back from Sabbatical for just over a week, and it is a blessing to be able to re-engage in the ministry and mission we share as the community of Memorial Baptist Church.

I’m a bit tired, though, because Gabrielle and I just got back from a literal “down and back” road trip with friends to witness the total solar eclipse in Kentucky.  I’d seen at least two partial eclipses of the sun before, but in the direct path of the shadow of the moon, it really was awe-inspiring.

Even up to the point where just a sliver of sun could be seen through the eclipse glasses, it was still very bright outside, maybe like looking at the world through a light pair of sunglasses.  But the moment the moon directly obscured the sun, the skies faded to deep twilight.  Sunset colors painted the horizon in every direction, while overhead, instead of the overpowering intensity of the bright sun, there was a dark “hole” in the sky, surrounded by the radiant white streamers of the sun’s photosphere.  All of us who were part of the crowd that had gathered to witness the eclipse were hushed, then moved to expressions of awe and applause at the sight.

Speaking personally, what an amazing blessing to finish the summer on this note.

The study portion of my sabbatical has been to listen and learn from the spiritual journeys of those who are not currently connected to a faith community, in order to seek points of connection and conversation.  It’s been about finding how to create space to listen for God to speak into our lives together, following in the footsteps of the Son of God, who came to meet us where we are so that we might come to know who God is, in a way that transforms our everyday lives here and now and into eternity.

Yet another facet of my sabbatical experience has been the blessing of connecting with the awe of God and of God’s creation.   I’ve been able to kayak the chain of lakes from Camp Tamarack near Waupaca, watching the fish swim underneath me and the herons and waterfowl standing watch over the water’s edge.  Gabrielle and I enjoyed the spectacular views across southern Utah and northern Arizona, watching the sun play across red sandstone canyons, and the Milky Way splash across the desert skies far from city lights.  I’ve been able to witness and photograph supercell thunderstorms across the central plains of the United States, and slow down to notice blue jays chattering from the trees along the DeNevue creek.

There’s something deeply important in all of this – much more than just listing things I’ve been so incredibly privileged to be a part of.  Because we know how fast-paced life can be, how easy it is to get caught up in the demands and chaos of the present.  Or to have our imagination brought down to the horizon of our electronic screens.  We have access to so much information, so much knowledge, as Ferris Bueller puts it: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Whether we always realize it or not, we have a need for awe, for transcendence (if we want to use a fancy word) – to remember just how big and amazing a world we live in, and critically, that there is more to life even than this big and amazing world, to let creation be a sign that points beyond itself to its Creator.

The Psalmist knew this well, insisting that all of creation is offering its praise to God.  From the patterns of the stars to the mind-boggling intricacy of the forming of a human child in the womb; if we will but slow down to consider, to contemplate, to notice, then we can discover the awe and blessing of appreciating what God has created and is sustaining moment to moment.

To do this is both simple and difficult; it simply requires us to slow down enough to notice what is right around us, to be attentive to what we see, to what God is drawing our attention to.  It’s also difficult because we are often so driven to be busy, to be productive, to give in to the myriad of needs and demands on our time, that we find ourselves rushed through our day without having really experienced it.

To move against that pressure requires a sense of intentionality – both in deliberately carving out time to slow down, and developing the skill of looking for signs of God’s presence wherever we are.

But it’s worth it.  Jesus told the disciples that he’s come to give us life, and life abundantly – a kind of life that we can begin to enjoy right now, as we trust God and begin to live with our eyes open along the way.

Blessings for the journey,

Pastor Brian