Awe: A feeling of reverential respect; an emotion inspired by the sacred or sublime.
My mother did everything she could to inspire an experience of awe and wonder in my brother and I. Every family vacation oriented around an awe-inspiring place or event. There was the trip to see the ancient burial grounds of Native Peoples in the Midwest. There was the August vacation one year planned around a meteor shower, where mom went to great pains to have us stay near a lake without city lights so our family could sit together for a late night meteor shower viewing, shooting stars reflected in the water. There was the iconic “Trip West” with camping at the foot of the Grand Tetons. There was Yosemite. Yellowstone. The Badlands. There was also the day-to-day witnessing of her passion for learning: ancient history, archaeology, astronomy. There was even a rare month spent in Egypt when I was 8 years old, gliding down the Nile, climbing in the dark tunnels inside the pyramids, mom assisting me with taking my own photos and drawing my own artistic renditions of the sites we were seeing. (How lucky am I!?)
Ultimately, my mother gave me one of the greatest gifts: planting the seeds for an experience of awe and wonder, laying the groundwork for an ongoing experience of holiness and divinity. She showed me from an early age how to be captivated. She showed me how to relate to life beyond myself: the past, the heavens, the stars and planets. I could begin to feel my place in an order of things beyond myself that was beyond time and space. I knew Life was bigger than me. These were the moments that truly pointed me in the direction of being in conversation with the Divine.
The capacity to experience awe and wonder strikes me as an absolutely essential capacity to cultivate (both in myself as well as in my family life). To live from a place of awe or wonder keeps me rooted in openness to surprise and mystery, the unexpected twists of a day, the slow amble of an ant, the crushing beauty of a rock…Without remembering awe, I’m less reverential, less attuned to beauty, and generally more lacklustre in my orientation to a day. Parenting especially seems to have ushered me into many moments of structured predictability, where my attention can get stuck in an overwhelming sense of responsibility and exhaustion. Philosopher Karl Jaspers wrote that his experience of God or the Divine was one grounded in “silence in the face of being.” Do we foster such moments throughout the day, both by ourselves as well as with our children? In silence, stillness and slowness there are perhaps more opportunities for awe and wonder to arise in their most primitive forms. No hype, no ‘excitement:’ just pure, unadulterated silent observing. As parents we can gently lay the groundwork for such moments – perhaps setting forth with a vision of possibility and then letting go when our children aren’t following suit. Nothing forced, nothing pressed: only trusting that over time a culmination of shared moments and experiences may reveal this nugget of sweet, shared enjoyment of life – with a sense of the sacred and sublime forming the background, full of light…