February 2009

Aaahh...

I am not sure I spelled that right! Of course, it is a sound, not a word; and reading it rather than hearing it, you have no way of knowing what it sounds like and therefore conveys. What I don’t mean is that aaahh that precedes something shucks, or the aaahh the doctor asks for as she examines our throats. I mean something fuller and brighter, from a deeper place within a person. It is that experience of understanding that comes gradually, or sometimes suddenly. I imagine we have all had that happen when we were struggling a math or science problem in school, and the teacher or a tutor guides us through the process to the answer, and our response was something like: “aaahh…now I get it!” It is a dawning of a new understanding, a nee insight, a new perception. It is as though the lights come on. We might call it an epiphany, with a little “e”.

We are midway through the church’s season of Epiphany (with a capital “E”). Epiphany is that time of the Christian year when we celebrate and pay special attention to the aaahhs and the ahas that happened around the coming of Jesus into the world, as well as our own awakening to the coming of Jesus into our experience of life. We tell again the story of the Magi and their journey to recognize the birth of the Christ. We tell again the story of Jesus’ baptism by John at the Jordan river. We speak of the dawning of light and its spreading influence. It is a season of light and illumination.

Think about when you may have had such moments in your life. When and how did God first become something more than a word. Have there been times and experiences for you when God has seemed especially real and present to you? What have been the aaahhs for you? Have you had moments when the sense of God’s love and grace suffused you? Have you had moments when your understanding of faith awakened a new level of trust within you? Have you had moments when you experienced a gentle tug or a compelling push to risk stepping out for a cause or a need that you somehow knew God would want addressed?

These moments can occur in a myriad of ways and in all circumstances of life. They can come in a moment of intense beauty, facing into a spectacular sunset or the face of a newborn baby. They can also come in a moment of great tragedy, experiencing the loss of a loved one or witnessing the cruelty of hunger or war. These epiphanies awaken in us the sense of the presence of God in our world, and the call of God in our lives. They illuminate for us the fragility, wonder, and mystery of life. They move us toward a deepening sense of the purpose and meaning of our lives. We may begin to sense and see God in all of life. As the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote in one of his poems we find ourselves awaken to the truth that “the world is charged with the grandeur of God!”

There’s an old joke (stop me if you’ve heard this before). Question: “What did the zen Buddhist say to the hotdog vendor on the street?” Answer: “Make me one with everything.” I love that joke. But what I find myself believing, my dawning awareness is that I am one with the One who is Everything; and that we all are, if only we awakened to it. Aaahh... Awe!

I think that’s really the final word on the subject: Awe… Charles Wesley concludes his great hymn “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling with the line: “lost in wonder, love, and praise.”

AWE…