by Christine Sine
We used to say ‘interesting’, then ‘very interesting’, then ‘amazing’, and now, at least in cool circles, or circles trying to be cool, ‘awesome’. An American waiter will routinely say ‘awesome’ when you give your order. This inflation has diminishing returns on the capital sum of experience. How quickly we forget or become bored with what we spend all our resources on praising to the heights. The value of the currency of language tumbles.
The thoughts in this article sent to me by Rodney Marsh in Australia, echoed in my mind this afternoon as I reflected on my weekend. On Saturday I facilitated by first Gift of Wonder retreat in Bend Oregon and I had planned to share the highlights of the retreat and the lessons I learned in today’s meditation Monday. But providential encounters took over and I am still both sobered by the lack of awe in our society and carry a growing passion to reconnect people to the awe they should be experiencing and the language they need to express it.
On Friday as I headed through airport security I started chatting to a man from Alaska. When he found out where I was headed and what I was doing his eyes gleamed and his ears perked up. His wife died 2 years ago and since then he has been searching for meaning in his life. Awe and wonder is the avenue he has chosen through which to explore that.
He told me that there is a grove of cedar trees on his property, some of which are estimated at 900 years old. The deepest sense of meaning he has found in life is standing amongst those trees looking up. He is inspired by their majesty and by his imagining of the stories of those who have gone before him standing in this same space, admiring the same trees and being awed by their magnificence. This, he told me, is what has brought him the closest to believing in God.
People are hungry for awe and wonder and for the God it reveals to them.
On the flight I pulled out my powerpoint to revise my notes for the next day. As I worked on the slide above, the young woman next to me leaned over and asked “Did you write that book?” She had just bought 2 copies at Barnes and Noble intending to read it with a friend. She was hungry for awe and wonder in her life and felt The Gift of Wonder would help her find that. My suggestion, borrowed from Landmarks, that we need to re-wonder the world lit up her eyes with excitement. “We use the word awesome all the time.” she said “but it doesn’t have any meaning anymore. ” I was sobered by how closely her words echoed the thoughts in the article quoted above.
Then on the trip home I talked to a New Zealand woman who like me has relocated to Seattle. She told me that her mother would not let them use the word awesome for everyday encounters and events. She thought it needed to be used solely for God and God’s creation. Once again her words seemed to echo the article above. Not only don’t we notice awe inspiring sights, we are bored with the language of awe because we have so saturated our vocabulary with awesome words that they no longer have any meaning.
We don’t just need to re-wonder the world, we need to re-wonder our language.
I hope that I have not bored you over the last few months with the language of awe. Hopefully, as it has done for me, it has had the opposite effect and you find yourself dancing and laughing at the truly awesome nature of our world and our God. Bt just in case that is not true, I wanted to end this series with a few suggestions of how to keep your eyes and ears and our language alive to that which is truly awe inspiring. These are borrowed from The Gift of Wonder. and you might like to reread the chapter on awe and wonder. I find that things like this need frequent repetition and I suspect you find the same.
- Set aside awe inspiring language to use only for that which is truly awe inspiring. How often do you use awe inspiring language for that which is not awe inspiring at all? What would it look like for us to cut out words like “awesome” and “brilliant” and “amazing” from our speech unless we are praising God and God’s creation?
- Slow down and take notice. Awe is rooted in silence and slowness. If you aren’t walking or able to give something 100% of your attention it probably isn’t awesome. This is what the awe and wonder walks Tom and I take have made possible for us. We move slowly enough to notice and then our conversation encourages us to give the object that has caught our imaginations, 100% of our attention.
- Take notice of what gives you goosebumps. Goosebumps, unexpected gasps, and “wow” response are expressions of genuine awe. These are deserving of the word “awesome”. Relish what you have noticed, savor your response to it and don’t be afraid to call it awesome.