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St Johns Southgate

09 Oct 2018

That’s awesome!

I flew on an aeroplane the other day. There’s nothing extraordinary about that, you might think, and you’d be right in one respect.

Yes, like most of the people on the flight, I hooked into my device and zoned out for the entirety of the journey.

But looking at it another way, the flight was rather extraordinary! There I was, with a couple of hundred other passengers, inside a metal tube that was pushing its way through the clouds.

We were zooming towards our destination by a means once reserved for the birds. That is pretty incredible! Even so, I didn’t bother to look out the window, even once.

If you can relate to my groanful toleration of air travel, and I suspect that many of you can, then I think it’s fair to say that we’ve lost a sense of awe. But even if you’re an aerophile, I’m sure the absence of awesome is revealed in some other way, like “Oh, a double rainbow, that looks great … but I’ve got to check my notifications on Twitter”.

I tend to think that as all conquering, top-of-the-food-chain, 21st century creatures, we’ve become accustomed to the idea that we are the highest power. We’ve become like gods ourselves, so what is there to be awed by?

Sure, there are those things that can still take your breath away. The Grand Canyon, Uluru, or the night sky when you’re hundreds of kilometres from any light pollution for instance. Certain things can leave us impressed by the universe, yes, but in a different way than they used to – at least in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

It used to be, to invoke the psalmist, that the heavens declared the glory of God. It used to be that we were truly awed, not just by the sights before our eyes, but by the divine creativity behind them.

Being impressed by the universe alone is fine, but it’s insufficient for the building of a vocabulary around awe and for growing the capacity to fully experience it. Because, to put it simply, the universe itself can’t respond to our gasps of, “Wow!”

For millennia, sacred writings have opened up the conversation around the things that we, on our own, find too beautiful, too confusing, or even too horrifying for words.

The great religious texts of the world have allowed readers to process those things, which we struggle to process on our own. On top of that, holy writings have allowed, and can still allow us, to share the jaw-dropping experiences of life with others, even those buried many moons ago.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet famously uttered, “Words, words, words” as if they didn’t matter when, truth be told, they do – and not just for our self-annunciation but for our reception of the other and the revelation of God’s glory.

Admittedly, as a Christian minister, I’m biased. But I do believe that if we tap into the sacred writings of the world, we (myself included) might relearn the language of awe.

Because, in the words of scripture, we can discover depth, form and substance to things otherwise inexpressible.

Holy words make us more able to say, “That’s awesome!” about things truly worthy, instead of assigning such glory to things as fleeting and trivial as the latest Game of Thrones episode.

 

Tom Hoffmann - Pastor

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