I will end the series on awe and wonder with some thoughts on practice. Often awe and wonder can sneak up on us like coming upon an unexpected vista. Awe and wonder can also be manipulated from within us. Rock concerts with light shows or Fourth of July fireworks with patriotic music are examples. I am an advocate for seeking awe and wonder as a purposeful state, that we intentionally find ways to get outside of ourselves and be taken up into that divine something that is so much larger than we are.
In our Sunday worship, we have played with curiosity as a means for developing awe. Explore the world around you. Find the life that thrives in unexpected places. Discover an animal species you have never encountered. We live in an age where there is excellent access to pictures and videos of creatures you will never encounter where you live. Somehow seeing creation work in ways that are completely different from us, whether the graceful underwater flight of the blanket octopus or the wide-eyed glare of the tarsier, can be enough to elicit a sense of wonder.
Another practice of awe and wonder is getting lost in the scope of the universe. This can be as simple as contemplating a rock, especially one that can fit in your hand. Feel its contours and solidity. Pay attention to the many colors and variations, the glint of quartz particles in granite. Consider how it got in your hand, the millions of years of pressure underground, the powerful geological forces that brought it to the surface. The rocks I handed out in worship had also been smoothed by thousands of years of contact with Atlantic Ocean sand.
Then look upward to the heavens, consider the night sky, the light years between you and the nearest star, the age of the light you can see, the massiveness of the objects in the solar system. Think of the things we don’t know or have yet to understand: black holes, comets and dark matter.
In Zen Buddhism, there is a concept called, “single-minded focus.” It has achieved some notoriety in these days of many distractions, as people recognize how social media and other technologies can tug on our focus. It is the practice of learning how to concentrate on one single moment, allowing distractions to flow by. In the Christian contemplative tradition, there is the practice of turning ones focus fully on the divine. The 13th century anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing describes a God hidden behind the titular cloud. His advice on prayer was, “Keep your focus by staring at this cloud with a sharp arrow of love and longing, and never turn back from this work, no matter what happens.”
In many ways, what I suggest as practices for awe and wonder are about relearning to pay attention. Rather than going to the zoo and saying, “I saw a giraffe,” take the time to watch and learn about what makes a giraffe beyond its long neck. Rather than seeing a full moon, labeling it as full and turning away, take the time to notice its patterns of light and shadow, simply marveling at its, for lack of a better word, God-given moonness.
Giving single-minded attention will take us many steps on the path of discipleship. Such attention given to scripture leads to wisdom. Such attention given to ourselves might lead to repentance and self-control. Such attention given to our lives might lead toward contentment and gratitude. Such attention given to our neighbor leads to compassion, justice and love. It is no wonder that several times in the gospels Jesus calls us to attention with the simple words, “Keep awake!” Wake up! Keep awake! Pay attention to the awe and wonder that is happening all around you.