by Christine Sine
I am getting ready for the Inhabit conference this weekend. I am looking forward to seeing friends and making new ones. I am also looking forward to my workshop on awe and wonder. Some of it is familiar, the awe and wonder we anticipate when we get out into the beauty of nature. But I will also talk about a different type of awe and wonder. Many of the participants of this conference work with the houseless, the unemployed and the working poor. They struggle to make ends meet in challenging situations. Nature has little place in their environments yet there is still much to inspire us with awe.
How do we open ourselves to the awe and wonder of urban neighborhoods and houseless settlements under the freeway? Again Father Greg Boyle helps us gain the right perspective.
Standing in the margins with the broken reminds us not of our won superiority but of our own brokenness. Awe is the great leveler. The embrace of our own suffering helps us land on a spiritual intimacy with ourselves and others. For if we don’t welcome our own wounds we will be tempted to despise the wounded.
So how do we open ourselves to this type of awe?
First we need to slow down and take notice. Most of us hurry through our neighborhoods, intent on where we are going rather than where we are. Slowing down and giving ourselves permission to savor everything we see, hear and touch is an important step towards appreciating its awe. Suddenly we notice the gardens in a broken pavement and the beauty of dandelions in an abandoned lot. Then our eyes shift to the faces of strangers who pass us in the street. They too make us gasp in awe as we catch glimpses of the image of God in them.
Second we need to make space for silence. We don’t just hurry through life, we also go noisily through life, constantly making noise or listening to it. Taking time to enter the silence in which God can speak to us about where we live and what we need to take notice of is hard, yet necessary if we really want to see our surroundings as God does.
Third we need to take notice of the small and beautiful things. Awe can be triggered by an unexpected smile, a helping hand on the bus, graffiti on the wall. Giving ourselves permission to notice these things is a rare and precious gift.
Fourth we should seek out what gives us goosebumps. I recently walked around the township of Beacon New York. It is where Tom’s family live and I have always enjoyed walking the streets. However what I most look forward to are the murals – from the famous “man with no face” to the mermaid/Hudson River image, their beauty and the story they tell never ceases to inspire me. This year there were some new ones that caught my attention and filled me with awe.
Fifth see the world differently. Walk around your neighborhood with a houseless person, with someone from another culture or with a child. They will notice things you never see and have perspectives very different from your own. They will open your eyes to marvel at aspects of your community that you take for granted.
What Is Your response
I encourage you to take time this week to enter into the awe not just of God’s created world but of the communities in which you live as well. Take your camera and a companion with you. What do you notice? What inspires you? Take time to journal about your responses.