Understanding God’s gift of awe

When we feel awe where does that come from? A chemical reaction, or is it the fingers of God opening our eyes, ears and heart to that which surrounds us.

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PETALUMA, CA, June 20, 2016 – “We have eyes, yet see not; ears that hear not,” insists Jason Silva in an episode of his hugely popular YouTube program Shots of Awe, “and hearts that neither feel nor understand.”

A compelling statement, to be sure, even if it’s deeper meaning isn’t immediately apparent.

It’s actually a paraphrase of something Jesus – who was himself paraphrasing the prophet Jeremiah – said some 2000 years ago. The words reflect his frustration in dealing with the slow-wittedness of his disciples who, even though they had just seen him feed upward of 4000 people with only a few scraps of food, were worried about not having enough to eat. “Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not?” asks Jesus, “and do ye not remember?”

Presumably, they got the message.

“One would think the sheer wonder at the resources of God would touch their minds with awe,” suggest the editors of The Interpreter’s Bible in their commentary on this passage, “and drive all little gnawing worries from their minds.”

Perhaps, then, this is what Silva was getting at – that we should be willing to set aside whatever our physical eyes and ears are telling us about our present circumstances long enough to be touched – to be transformed, to be awed – by the incredible “resources of God” that can only be perceived spiritually.

“[Awe is] an experience of such perceptual vastness,” says Silva, “you literally have to reconfigure your mental models of the world to assimilate it.”

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The trouble is, we have a tendency to take such spiritually oriented emotions as awe – if emotion is even the right word – and stuff them into decidedly matter-based boxes, describing only those aspects that our matter-based eyes and ears are able to comprehend or are willing to admit. That’s like being dazzled by a sky full of stars and refusing to imagine the universe beyond.

Notwithstanding the many advances in science that have occurred since the days of Jeremiah, why on earth would we want to consider such a fundamentally spiritual experience as anything less than a reflection of Spirit itself?

“Awe moves us from a model of self-interest to really being engaged in the interests of others,” noted Cal Berkeley professor and renowned awe researcher Dacher Keltner during a recent conference on the subject, “from the isolated self to the more integrated self.”

As quick as many in his field may be to attribute even this most essential facet of humanity to a chemical reaction in the brain, sometimes confusing effects for causes, we would do well to consider whether doing so inadvertently allows our eyes and ears to get in the way of experiencing what’s really going on.

Of course, there are those who would resist using religious language to describe something that we’re all capable of experiencing, in myriad ways, regardless of belief. Standing in a redwood forest. Peering over Niagara Falls. The birth of a child. The play of light through the trees. An exquisite meal. Although each, in their own way, arouses a sense of awe, does that mean it’s possible to view them all through a spiritual, even religious, lens? That depends.

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According to Mary Baker Eddy, the key is to understand the spiritual substance that underlies all that genuinely inspires us.

“Nature voices natural, spiritual law and divine Love, but human belief misinterprets nature,” she writes in her seminal work, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. “Arctic regions, sunny tropics, giant hills, winged winds, mighty billows, verdant vales, festive flowers, and glorious heavens,  – all point to Mind, the spiritual intelligence they reflect.”

Although in this instance Eddy makes no reference to giving birth or a fabulous dinner, the idea is the same: Even if our most awe-inspiring moments feel like something happening inside our head, what’s really going on is something deeply spiritual, even divine, with our head being neither the source nor cause.

Regardless of what our material senses may try and tell us, awe is not a chemical reaction but a wholly spiritual response to the infinite ways in which God’s love for his/her creation is expressed. It is, as Eddy writes, Love, or God, reflected in love – that extraordinary mashup of wonderment, reverence, and gratitude that words alone will never be able to express.

Try as we might to see this with our eyes or somehow hear this with our ears, ultimately it can only be understood as we adopt a more spiritual view of reality.

Eric Nelson writes about the link between consciousness and health from his perspective as a practitioner of Christian Science. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California. Follow him on Twitter @norcalcs. Continue the conversation on Facebook.

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