Reflection: In Awe and Wonder

October 20, 2019

2 Samuel 5:1-5; 6:1-5; Psalm 150

Every few weeks I get a mailing from a fellow by the name of Jim Burklo, who’s a university chaplain in California.  I don’t always agree with him, but I like his theological openness and his style of writing. In an old article he described a visit to his old home town in Ohio – a little town of 6000 people, that hadn’t changed much over the years.  When he was a child, he and his friends used to dig through the piles of rock dug up when the new school was being built, to find bits of rock and fossils left over by the glaciers that pushed all the way south from Canada.  This is what he describes.  He says:

“I found a strange little rock that looked like a hornet’s nest.  A mail-carrier in town, a serious rock-collector who helped me earn my geology merit badge for Boy Scouts, later identified it.  It was the fossilized calyx of a crinoid, a flower-like animal that attached itself to the sea-bed like an urchin.  In the palm of my hand, in that school yard, I was thrilled to hold the remains of a creature that lived perhaps half a billion years ago.

On my visit to my hometown, I had a powerful urge to go back to the spot where I found that fossil, to see if I could find another.  At the edge of the school yard, right by the woods, were freshly-dumped piles of dirt and rocks.  I pawed through them to see what I could find.  After half an hour of poking and pulling, I discovered a rock with some indentations in it.  It was covered with tiny, delicate impressions of ancient sea-shells.  I held it in the palm of my hand and put on my reading glasses.  As I studied it in a sunny spot in the woods, I felt the rush of my original fascination.

The fossils and rocks of Columbiana thrust me into the grander context of space and time that surrounded my youthful, small-town existence.  They drew my imagination beyond the circumscribed horizons that my eyes could see in that relatively flat landscape.  Looking at them with my mind’s eye, I sensed the long sweep of natural history from the Pre-Cambrian to the Post-Holocene eras.  Contemplating them, I got a glimpse of the divine point of view: a hint of a perspective beyond my own.  Those fossils filled me with holy awe.

As I stood there a few days ago, I felt that awe once more. … The town of Columbiana was a bright window into my past, helping me to make sense of my present.  The fossils of Columbiana were windows into a past and future far beyond my own.  They awakened me to my brief and small place in space and time.  I left that little town to wander the wide world of my childhood daydreams.  But as I stood by the woods with a fossil in my hand, I realized that in the scale of geological time, my life is hardly bigger than it was when I was in the fifth grade in that little Midwestern town.  It is through our hearts, burning with sacred awe, that we are able to reach beyond the horizon.”

( for current and previous articles)

Today, I invite you into sacred awe.  Today I invite you to experience some of what David did – what made him dance before the whole people in joy at the visible presence of God – even when that presence was mysterious and unpredictable and even frightening ( which you’ll find out if you keep reading)!  I invite you to go deep into that place where you know and remember that you are a but a tiny bit of a vast, unfolding universe…where you know the complexity and wonder of the whole starry cosmos and see the expanse of time stretching out before and behind you.  I invite you into a remembrance of the people who have gone before you, the traditions that have shaped you, the moments that have changed you; and I invite you to be aware, and thankful, that amidst all that amazing history and almost boundless life, you still have a place – that you are known and held by God, who is present to you today as she has always been present, and always will be.  I want you to sit with that for a moment…just a few moments, and with King David, and with Jim, and with the Psalmist, let your hearts burn with holy awe…..

We sing psalms and hymns and say prayers of praise to God, not because God has an ego that needs stroking, but because it is a natural and appropriate response to those incredible moments that take us beyond ourselves.  This is the response to the absolutely amazing and awe-inspiring gift of our existence.  This is the response to our knowledge of our place in the intricate web that is life – and that we are inheritors of grace and blessing.  We glorify God with our bodies: in our work, our play, our words, our interactions, our intimate relationships, our movement, our song and dance.  We glorify God with our spirits: the physical breath that animates our bodies and the divine breath that first gave us life and connects us to God. We glorify God with our souls, our deepest and truest selves: living out the best of who we are, letting our reverence and awe unite us with the rest of creation in praise.  Friends, take a moment today, and every day, to renew your wonder and offer your thanks.  Amen.

(Revised from July 15, 2012)

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