Prays Together: The Disappearance of Awe

By Ron Hull

We were driving along the coast just south of Big Sur when we decided to stop for a picnic. A rock on the edge of the cliff served well as a table and as a vantage point to drink in the expanse of blue. The romantic sounds of the surf flirting with the shore, the enveloping summer breeze, the endless panorama—all these called for quiet reverie. A moment to be still.

Short moment. Before the feast had hardly begun a pickup pulled up and its occupants spilled out. They quickly set up a “boom box” and bongo drums. Revelry. The unnatural sounds didn’t seem to fit the setting.

Abraham Heschel defined “awe” as that moment in human experience in which to say anything is a sacrilege. It is that encounter with the transcendent which leaves us speechless.

Awe is standing mute in a grove of redwoods. No place on earth can be so quiet or so insistent on silence. Even the birds know not to sing.

It is standing on the precipice opposite Victoria Falls and watching the mighty mile-wide Zambezi River plunge recklessly to its destiny. The African name for the falls means “the smoke that thunders.” One can see rainbows in the mist there but he will pay for it. The ceaseless, spiraling spray drenches any who venture onto this holy ground.

It is sitting by a saint’s bedside in the final moments. One whose body has been ravaged by pain but her spirit is undaunted.

It is that moment when any speech sounds profane.

Are we losing touch with awe? Even the term “awesome” has become debased in our verbal coinage.

Automobiles and football teams are “awesome”! Really? When everything is awesome, nothing is.

Medieval architects designed those huge cavernous cathedrals so that worshipers would have frequent experiences of awe. Regardless of what you think of spending money for such buildings, have you ever noticed what happens when people enter them? Speech almost immediately turns into whispers.

But we hardly have time for cathedrals—indoors or outdoors. We zip down scenic roads, rarely enjoying the wonders along the way because our thoughts are preoccupied with staying on the move and spotting patrol cars in the rear-view mirror.

We have little time or patience for words that say, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). We don’t have time to really listen to children—to listen for faint echoes of something we’ve lost. And so we hear only prattle.

And yet…“all thy works shall praise thy name” and “from the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise.”

We must get quiet again. One of the most profane bumper stickers in recent memory, as far as I’m concerned, said, “Honk if you love Jesus.” No. Honk if you love noise. But if you seek genuine religious experience, then listen to the poet: “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him” (Habakkuk 2:20).

Ron Hull is pastor of the Church of Christ. He may be reached by calling 559-592-2909.

Prays Together is a rotating column between the pastors of the First Presbyterian Church of Exeter, Church of Christ of Exeter, Nazarene Church of Exeter, Church of God of Exeter, the New Life Assembly of God and Rocky Hill Community Church as well as the Lemon Cove Presbyterian Church. 

This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Foothills Sun-Gazette newspaper.

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