by Christine Sine,
In a couple of weeks, Lilly Lewin and I will conduct our Fall retreat Gearing Up For A Season of Gratitude. In preparation, I am reading Diana Butler Bass’s book Grateful: The Subversive Practice of Giving Thanks. She explains that gratitude involves emotion and ethics (moral principles) both of which function in the personal and public realms of life. (Grateful, xxvi) As a result, we can view gratitude as emotion – in the personal realm delight, joy, or, surprise, in the public realm expressing appreciation with family or community. Or, we see gratitude as requiring action, like writing thank you notes or in the public realm, social action expressed in charity or volunteerism. (Grateful, xxvii)
Most of us, she points out, have a distorted view of gratitude emphasizing only one aspect of gratitude and usually “assumes the language of emotion”. She then explains that this means gratitude is seen as a “feminine” virtue, “something soft and sentimental” which usually means it loses its intellectual bite and is seen as less important especially in the academic field. (Grateful, 12)
Wow! The same thing has happened to awe and wonder and I suspect to our appreciation of beauty. These are all relegated to the emotional realm when they should be seen as moral principles woven into the foundations of our faith, part of the lens through which we interpret life. Awe and wonder are not meant to be an exclamation of praise or a gasp of surprise when we see something beautiful or unexpected and then quickly dismissed at will. It is part of the nature of God and of the universe, woven into the very fabric of life. God is awesome – fact, not emotion. The world in which we live is awe-inspiring – fact, not emotion. Can you see the difference and understand the implications? When we think of awe and wonder as an emotion we give ourselves permission to switch it off or on and it does not have consequences for how we live our lives. When we recognize it as fact we have a responsibility to embrace it and work towards incorporating it into the nature of who we are too just as we work to incorporate other aspects of who God is – love, patience, compassion, faithfulness, generosity. And we are responsible to weave it into our view of creation.
As I think about this, I am reminded of the Celtic Christians who believed creation was translucent. The glory of God shone through it. Every aspect of creation from the smallest cell to the highest mountain is awe-inspiring and the glory of God shines through it. That is a fact not an emotion. As I mentioned in my post Meditation Monday – Anchored in Wonder, Rabbi Abraham Heschel, one of the 20th century’s leading Jewish theologians and one of my heroes, emphasizes the need to begin and remain anchored in wonder in order to deal with the pain in the world and I think what he is talking about here is wonder as a part of the nature of God, not an emotion. In that post, I go on to say:
Wonder changes our perspective on life. It opens us to surprise, anticipation, unpredictability, celebration and mystery, replacing the rigidity of fear and anxiety with flexibility and joy. It enables us to imagine new life, new opportunities and the possibility of new beginnings definitely something that we all need to do at the present time. I think that one of the great benefits of wonder is that it helps us to look not at the pain but through the pain to God’s comforting and strengthening presence. It enables us to hold onto hope when everything around us seems hopeless.
It is this approach to wonder that we all desperately need at the moment, not a feel-good emotion, not even a spiritual practice, but a lens through which to view life. Writing The Gift of Wonder took me on an amazing journey into dimensions of wonder that transformed my life. Now I feel I am at the beginning of another exciting journey, exploring new dimensions of wonder, another one of those roads less travelled I seem to specialize in. Maybe there is another book in the future! Any thoughts you have on this would be greatly appreciated.
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