Authentic spirituality always leads us to be more deeply connected—with ourselves, others, the world, and God. In the last few weeks, we’ve talked about loving ourselves and others as an integral part of our spiritual practice. Now we focus on loving the world.

There is so much in our world that is magical, wonderful, and awe-inspiring. When we miss it, we don’t only lose our capacity to love the world. We lose our souls. This means that nurturing our capacity for awe is not just good for the Earth. It is good for us—for our bodies, hearts, minds, and spirits.

In this episode of the EvoFaith Podcast, we explore the power of awe, and some simple practices to increase our capacity for, and experience of, awe. All of which empowers us to connect with and love the world more deeply.

Our world is a truly awesome place and our universe is filled with mysteries and wonders. When there is so much to weigh us down and lead us into despair, depression, and boredom, awe is both the antidote we need and the catalyst to lead us back to love for our world. And God knows, our world deserves our love and needs it if it is to survive. So I really want to encourage you to be intentional about nurturing your capacity for awe.

Hello everyone! I’m John, the Founder and Host of EvoFaith, an online community for people who have broken up with the church, or whose relationship with the church can best be described as ‘it’s complicated’. If you want to be fully alive and to show up fully, authentically and courageously in your life and relationships, then maybe EvoFaith is the space you need to nurture a vibrant, creative and life-giving spirituality. So welcome to the EvoFaith Podcast.

In this episode we begin a series about the spiritual practice of loving the world. And we start by exploring the power of awe. So let’s begin.

A few years ago while I was still living in Cape Town, my son started at a new school in a place called Camps Bay, one of the most beautiful parts of the country of South Africa. I remember the first day I took him to school. We drove from our apartment along a windy road that took us along the hills and around a curve and as we came around this bend, suddenly in front of me was this vista of sea and mountain and just the most beautiful view I think I have ever seen – I almost drove off the road I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of it. For the rest of the time that we lived in Cape Town, if I had to go anywhere that I could get to using that road I would go that way, even if it was the longer road. It traveled along the coast, these wonderful curvy roads with steep hills and mountains on one side and the ocean on the other. It was just incredibly beautiful and it filled my soul every time I drove down that road.

You know, over the years I have grown increasingly convinced that the experience of awe is one of the most important factors in our mental and spiritual health. But as our understanding of the world grows, and as we face increasingly complex struggles, it’s easy for us to lose our sense of awe. Life becomes routine and predictable and we become very hard to surprise. 

When it comes to our relationship with our world, with creation, our mechanised world often steals our sense of magic and leads us to view the earth as simply the source of food and raw materials for our consumption. As our technology grows and infiltrates more and more of our lives, so we often get separated from the natural world around us. We can be so busy working on our devices that we forget to look at the beauty and wonder around us. Take a moment right now and stop looking at your screen and just look out a window or look around you to see some of the natural beauty that surrounds you.

In the Biblical creation account, at each step of the creative process, God looks at what God has made and declares, “It is good” and ultimately when the creation is complete, “It is very good!” The Psalms are filled with exclamations of wonder at the natural world:

“When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—
the moon and the stars you set in place—
what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
human beings that you should care for them?”
That’s Psalm 8

“The heavens proclaim the glory of God.”
That’s Psalm 19

At the end of the poetic book of Job, God challenges Job and his friends by describing the mysteries and wonders of the natural world, and it is Job’s awe at that that ultimately draws him out of his despair and back to faith.

In short the scriptures are telling us that we need awe if we are to be healthy human beings, and if we are to find and share life to the full. Awe empowers us to break free of our need to control our world and all of creation and it opens us to the wonder and, yes sometimes even the ’terror’ of it all. There’s something frightening about realising that the world, the cosmos, is beyond our control and that we could at any moment be extinguished by the powerful forces at work in nature. But it is in this realisation that we find ourselves humbled and aware of the mystery and magic of the earth.

Awe enables us to let go of our sense of ‘dominion’ or ‘domination’. It shows us that we are not the rulers of the natural world, but we’re part of it. We do not own the earth, we live here only as one small part of a much bigger system. And then, when all of this sinks in, we are able to enter into what Martin Buber would call an ‘I/Thou’ relationship with creation—as peers and co-participants in the mystery of life as opposed to an ‘I/It’ relationship where the world is lifeless and inferior to us. This respectful, honouring, and awe-filled relationship with creation is what helps us to make sense of our world and our place in it, and it fills our lives with meaning, and purpose, and a sense of both humility and worth.

Flowing out of this, awe opens us up to transcendence, to being overwhelmed by the beauty, majesty and mystery of the universe and of Life. It expands our lives and gives us a sense of being part of a universe, a history, and a reality that is much bigger than ourselves. And that is absolutely needed if we are to be healthy human beings and if we are to be good, true lovers of the world. 

So if this what awe can do for us, and if awe is essential to our capacity to love the world, how do we nurture a sense of awe in our lives? 

In a moment I’d like to offer a few ideas about that, but before I do I hope you won’t mind me reminding you to subscribe, like, activate notifications, and share this podcast as widely possible. If you find the EvoFaith podcast helpful, others probably will too and you can help to connect them with EvoFaith. Thank you so much!

So here are three simple ideas for nurturing awe as a spiritual practice and allowing it to make us wholehearted lovers of our world:

The first is to practice becoming like a child. I’m not sure if you’ll remember a time in your life when everything was new and amazing but we don’t have to lose that sense of childlike wonder. If we’re intentional, we can recapture our capacity to be surprised and enthralled. And a key feature of our capacity for wonder is the ability to hold all our perspectives, ideas, and judgements of the world lightly. We need to be aware of our ignorance and constantly be on the lookout to learn, recognising that there is so much we don’t know. It is in this openness that we can be surprised and moved to awe.

Then, secondly, we can be intentional about putting ourselves in positions to notice and engage with the wonders, beauty, and power of creation. By simply making a habit of finding great views, visiting places like planetariums or botanical gardens, watching nature shows, looking at photographs, and choosing to immerse ourselves in creation (which we’ll explore in more detail next time) we expand and reignite our capacity for awe and we fall in love with our world again and again.

And then finally, when something amazing happens—a beautiful sunset, an unexpected view, a surprising visit from an unusual creature— we can learn to stop, take notice, observe, learn, and give thanks. The practice of intentionally observing, opening to, and celebrating the wonders of the world can inspire, heal, and empower us in amazing ways. 

Our world is a truly awesome place and our universe is filled with mysteries and wonders. When there is so much to weigh us down and lead us into despair, depression, and boredom, awe is both the antidote we need and the catalyst to lead us back to love for our world. And God knows, our world deserves our love and needs it if it is to survive. So I really want to encourage you to be intentional about nurturing your capacity for awe.

In our next episode we will explore how immersing ourselves in the world, allowing ourselves to feel our connection and interdependence with nature, can inspire our love and open us to experience life more vibrantly and deeply.

But that’s all for now. Thank you for listening. Thank you for watching. And I’ll catch you next time! 

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