Awe and Children

This morning, the rain stopped long enough for me to walk our dog Rafa. We strolled out to the main road to see a different view of the Ko’olau mountains, where I counted five waterfalls in the two-thousand-feet verdant green cliffs a half-mile away. Rafa’s sniffing nose was buried in the grass while I stared at the falls. The mountains and the gushing waters were awesome.

Several years ago, one of my chaplain students was a rabbi, who experienced God as awe. Any experience of awe was an experience of God for him. This opened me up to the same interpretation. (Of course, there are many other interpretations and experiences of God available too.) I saw this in our shared sacred text as well. At the burning bush that was not consumed, Moses recognized that he was on holy ground. At the Jabbok river, Jacob wrestled with a stranger, a messenger from God, who lamed him and renamed him. Jacob said, “Surely, God was in this place and I did not know it.”  Elijah experienced a huge wind, earthquake and fire, but recognized God in a still small voice which spoke to him. Each of these people were awe-struck in encountering the Divine.

What does it take to experience awe? My rabbi (Jesus) said that the Realm of God is for those who become like little children. I think that takes some willingness to pause and be open, like Moses who turned aside to see the burning bush, instead of marching right by it, preoccupied by his own thoughts. Little children are willing to be open to the world.

Madeleine L’Engle advocates for being childlike, not childish. She writes this in Walking on Water, Reflections on Faith and Art:

“Only the most mature of us are able to be childlike. And to be able to be childlike involves memory; we must never forget any part of ourselves. As of this writing I am sixty-one years old in chronology. But I am not an isolated, chronological numerical statistic. I am sixty-one, and I am also four, and twelve, and fifteen, and twenty-three, and thirty-one, and forty-five, and…and…and…If we lose any part of ourselves, we are thereby diminished. If I cannot be thirteen and sixty-one simultaneously, part of me has been taken away.”

So, we need our child-selves to be open to the experience of “Wow.” As I am writing this, I am sitting at my desk looking out our sliding glass doors at our garden and polished coral walkway. A brown and black gecko just stopped on the walkway and puffed out his throat in a perfect red balloon, out and in, out and in, out and in. Wow! What a show off! The delighted four-year-old in me is alive and well. The fifty-eight-year-old says to herself, with a smile, “I know who made him.” Yeah, awesome.