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Living in Faith

Awareness of awe provides the soil in which spirituality takes root

By Keith Howard

An aquarium sits in our family room. Branches and leaves fill it, providing food and shelter for six larvae, which will soon become caterpillars before they hang from the branches, later to emerge as Painter Lady butterflies.

“Look at this one, Papa,” our oldest grandchild, Dylan, says right in the middle of a television program. Clearly he has not yet fallen under the power of the screen. “Why” and “wow” are the two most popular words in his vocabulary.

Awareness of awe provides the soil in which spirituality takes root. Profound wonder does not need to be reserved for the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains or the splendour of wheat fields. Occasions lie much closer at hand.

For Christians, experiences of awe and wonder form invitations. We confess that God is at work in the world, usually beneath the apparent. As in the story of Genesis-Exodus, the God who creates is also known as the God who redeems. Glimpses of the wonders of creation remind us that this redeeming God is close.

“Lift up your eyes to the hills,” says the Psalmist. To pause in wonder stills the spirit and allows possibilities to emerge.

As people who choose to be Christians, we rarely leave such awareness to chance. Not all of us have a three-year-old grandchild who can pull us from our routines to recognize moments of awe. Through a variety of practices such as prayer and solitude, we can discipline our attention, acknowledging moments of Wow and responding appropriately with gratitude.

“Wow! Thank you,” is the sequence.

Sometimes I have to rewind the movement. Prayer at day’s end serves as backstop and begins with the question, “For what am I thankful this day?” Then I see the wonder in the day.

On the days when Dylan sleeps over, I am humbled by the attention to detail in his bedtime prayer routine. “And Papa, what about. . . ?”

One form of the “Why?” question brings me up short. “Why can’t I?”

At times, the usual responses apply. “Because it’s not safe,” or “Because I said so!” But in more instances than I might have guessed, I have to think again. Is my answer based upon an old prohibition or a valid insight? Or is my answer based in fear? For I carry more fear than I care to acknowledge, more limitation based on habit than occasion warrants. I wonder what God thinks when we turn away from an opportunity due to fear or limited viewpoint.

These reactions are not new to God. The Scriptures carry many stories where the central characters protest against God, usually conveying a long list of reasons why they are not the ones for the job. Moses may provide the most recognizable example — abandonment and adoption issues from his past, morally ambiguous actions as a young man, lack of confidence in his abilities, plus the relatively straightforward position of “I just don’t want to.” To which God responds, “Whatever! Here’s the next step.”

Why can’t I? How can I? Sometimes the questions are simply different sides of the same coin and bring us to the same point. Do we trust in the power of God to work through us?

The United Methodist Church has produced a new document: The State of the Church: An Invitation to an Upright, Charitable and Discreet Conversation. Their findings very clearly mirror the state of The United Church of Canada.

Some conclusions particularly struck home. Only about half of Methodists report they are extremely hopeful either about the future of their denomination or their congregation. And yet there exists a yearning.

In a letter accompanying the report, Bishop Janice Riggle Huie writes, “In the 37 years since my ordination as a deacon, only in the rarest of instances have I experienced a [church] guided by such a powerful sense of mission and vision. But something is happening now and we’re ready to loosen up a little. We’re ready to move. We’re ready to follow Jesus.”

The language and the sentiment resonate strength and hope, yet deep questions run beneath the report. Chasms exist between rhetoric and action; many involve younger generations.

In critical times in our life as individuals and as a church, we need the gifts of those who can say, “Wow!” “Why can’t I/we?” and “How can I/we?”

The God behind the Wow opens the future.

Scripture: Exodus 3
Hymn: 635 (Voices United) All The Way My Saviour
Leads Me

Author's photo
Rev. Keith Howard is a Victoria writer and executive director of the United Church Emerging Spirit campaign.
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