We're Working On
We might hear: That shooting in Florida was absolutely awful! That was an awesome moment for us, as new grandparents! I was awestruck by the aurora borealis display last night! It was awe-inspiring to watch the figurer-skaters in Canadian Olympic Games yesterday! Our God is an awesome God!
In younger years, I was taught to not use the word “awful” because it was seen as a useless sentence filler (something might be awful good or awful bad, a wasted word, I was told). I am reworking my notions of awe and being awe-filled. Given that the construct has been correlated with personal wellbeing, this has led us to wonder if being awe-filled is connected to personal and collective flourishing?
Awe is such an interesting word: its etymology, evolution and evocative contemporary uses. Awe is spoken of as a feeling of “reverential respect, mixed with fear or wonder;” awe is thought to be a concoction of pain, grief, dread, terror, and admiration. Have you ever thought what parish life might be like if we were more child-like in our wonder, such as might displace our feigned rationality and our measured, adult-ish sophistication. This non-awe stuff of life is said to be inspired by narcissism, materialism, cynicism, social mimicry, disconnection, despair, deficit thinking, and hallowed out, false or feit-living.
Whereas, awe is said to be “a sensation of being in the presence of something vast that simultaneously goes beyond our comprehension of the world” and awe can be experienced as “a state of being that straddles the boundary of pleasure and fear.”
Well here’s the speculative thought: Is it possible that congregations/parishes whose attenders bring with them and experience together exceptional levels of awe are more likely to evidence higher levels of vibrance and wellbeing?
Awe, like gratitude and compassion and unlike so many self-focused emotions, transcends the person and connects or attends to something or Someone beyond. Researchers have demonstrated that when experienced this complex emotion improves health, increases pro-social behaviour (kindness, self-sacrifice, cooperation, volunteerism, resource-sharing), enhances curiosity, critical and creative thinking, expands our perception of time (brings us into the moment), influences decisions and makes life more satisfying. As we read narratives that entail what we might see as “awe,” lives are transformed, and political, social and religious movements are created.
A broadly conceived type of awe may be inspired by goose bump inducing experiences and occasions of wow moments. But to be context particular, as congregations worship in spirit and truth . . . as they experience the powerful presence and person of the Lord Jesus Christ . . . as they encounter and contemplate His loving sacrifice, benefits, blessings and hope . . . as they observe His wonder-working power over sin, disease, demons and death . . . and as Christian communities embody and enact compassion and justice – where and when space and time are afforded for noticing and nurturing these – might these stimulate an awe that begins to look like flourishing? Is flourishing, itself, awe-inspiring because it approximates or resonates with a cosmic design; God’s Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven? We are working on these thoughts. Of course, you are welcome to join us.
Last month while on holidays, my wife and I visited a church where Joseph Sangl was the visiting morning speaker. The parish had arranged for him to do a two-hour Sunday evening seminar as well – we returned for a second helping. I was intrigued and challenged, so picked up two of his books: I Was Broke But Now I Am Not and Oxen: The key to an Abundant Harvest. I enjoyed his first book because of the biographical struggle and well-explained approach to financial freedom, through a disciplined approach to money management.
Congregations are filled with people who are burdened, literally worried-sick about their finances, and often silently depressed under the saddle of unbridled debt. These conditions keep them from living into their anointed purposes, finding joy and walking in a manner worthy of their calling. The defense mechanisms for those caught up in this vicious cycle distract them from their families, their parish lives and their Kingdom service. So this is an inspirational and practical little book. There is also a DVD set available for small or larger groups’ study. I am really impressed with Joseph’s app (IWBNIN on the App Store) which has some great tools (and did I say “free”).
My own learning was significantly matured through his Oxen book. I see huge benefit for individuals, especially young people, but also for congregations/parishes in the principles of this book. Of late, the most frequent question I am asked in marriage preparation counseling relates to resources for personal and couples’ financial management. Both of these books will be added to my list. How does one exercise a stewardship that results in living a life that doesn’t require funding from others? The Oxen title comes from Proverbs 14:4 (Where there are no oxen, the manger is empty, but from the strength of an ox comes an abundant harvest). How, as households and parishes, do we develop the mindsets, disciplines and leveraging strategies to multiply our resources, beyond our simple: work an hour; get paid and hour or don’t work-don’t get paid approach to resources? I read this second book from the perspectives of fiscal governance (parish councils or Board of Elders) – there are organizational applications for the principles found in this second book.
In sum, I think directly helping congregants with the practicalities of finances or referring them to excellent human and book resources will have first hand benefits for them; but as I was reading these books I began to imagine what life would be like in communities of faith where people were free from the bondage of financial debt (vs. financial obligations) and where all attenders were able to be cheerful stewards of God’s gifts. This relatable oxen and abundant harvest metaphor offers congregations/parishes some strong and trustworthy ways forward.