Awe…been awhile?

When was the last time you were filled with awe, wonder, mystery? When was the last time you were so inspired that your response was a catch in the throat,  a whispered ‘awesome’ or a shouted ‘whoop’!

Been awhile?

According to a series of scientific studies awe is an essential component to living well.  Awe leads to greater generosity, increased ethical decision making and enhanced capacity for the common good.   One study put it this way: ‘Standing in a grove of towering trees enhanced prosocial helping behavior.’

It seems that being in the midst of nature has a way of putting our grandiosity or worries in perspective.  Looking into the depths of the Grand Canyon, hiking the White Mountains or standing in a grove of trees can speak to the depth of one’s soul.  A reminder that it isn’t all about us. It’s about belonging to something greater, so intricately complex and beautiful that in response, we simply whisper ‘thank you’.


Soul is that inner place where we instinctively sense a connection to that which is greater than oneself.  Remember the last time you looked up at the night sky and saw a shooting star?  Perhaps its been a very long time.  But you remember your response…a whispered or shouted ‘wow’ as a million year old meteor burned bright and then was gone.

John Muir put it this way:

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”

Since the beginning of time humankind has experienced awe.  Awe inspires, transforms, creates.  Awe fires the imagination…giving us art, science, poetry, music, dance, religion.

The challenge in life is to make space for awe. In our hyper busy, technologically driven lives we can miss out on so much.  Sometimes it takes a natural disaster  i.e. blizzard, blackout, flood to catch our attention.  A whack upside the head from the Universe that says ‘listen up’!

The invitation of course is ours.  To experience the beauty,  wonder, harshness, the sacredness of nature here and now.

Sometimes when I’m kayaking …I feel suspended between the water and sky.  A moment when I can’t distinguish between me and my surroundings.  There’s no duality only unity. I simply am.

Creation speaks in infinite ways…for those with the ears to hear, eyes to see and with lips to praise.

The poet Mary Oliver offers this:

‘Let me keep my mind on what matters which consists of standing still and learning to be astonished.’

May it be so.



Antidote: Peace of Wild Things

Peace of Wild Things

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. ~ Wendell Berry

photo Ipswich River

Last week feeling overwhelmed by the darkness of political discourse and the horrific images of yet another act of gun violence in our nation, I retreated  to the river.

The Ipswich is a gem just 15 minutes from my house.  With a few friends we slipped from one world into another.  Unplugged via canoe and kayak we moved with the water.

Soon we fell silent as we opened ourselves to the mystery and beauty of nature. Our companions?  The whistle of a hawk, the prehistoric screech of the Great Blue Heron and the slap of a beaver tail…letting us know that we were approaching their home.

We paddled slowly allowing the busyness and tension of life to slip away, at least for a time.   As the poet writes, ‘we came into the presence of still water, the peace of wild things’.  And indeed, for those moments, we rested in the grace of the world and were free.

Contemplative Paddling

We live in a culture that celebrates our ability to spin many plates, both professional and personal. We also remain highly connected through multi-media, not the least being the ubiquitous ‘Smart Phone’.

I’m not writing to bemoan the state of our culture. There is a lot to be said for the ability to multi-task and staying connected to our immediate and wider community.

Yet there are times when our brain, heart and spirit ask that we let our plates drop (for a while) and tune out from technology (for a while). The reason is that physiologically, emotionally and spiritually we need time to rest, reflect and restore.

A wonderful way to do this is through contemplative paddling. Recently I paddled with a group from the church I serve. We met early in the morning on the banks of a local lake. Our instruction was to limit our talking and to paddle slowly. We were given a meditation mantra from the Vietnamese Buddhist, Thich Nhat Hahn: “Breathing in I calm my spirit….Breathing out I smile….(inhale) Living in the moment….(exhale) This is the only moment…”

Kayak lone paddler photo

As we paddled on the lake, we were invited to practice this mantra when we found our thoughts pulling us away from being present to where we were. Half the time we simply floated and allowed the wind to take us where it would.

As we slowly paddled or simply floated we found that our minds, hearts and imaginations slowly began to be filled with the simple and profound beauty that was under and around us. Those busy spinning plates or glued to their computer, were missing the beauty that we floated upon.

3000 years ago a Jewish prophet named Isaiah offered this: “Listen and your soul will live”. From the waters of the lake we listened deeply, to the call of a mallard duck, to the soft wind, to the hopes and dreams that slowly emerged as we paddled or floated.

There’s a reason Jesus often removed himself from the demands and busyness of life, to go to a quiet place to pray, to listen. In the late 19th century a mystic and theologian named Soren Kierkegaard said: “The Sacred is always present, simply waiting to be found.”

Sometimes all it takes is time on the water to rest, renew and restore one’s soul. Sometimes all we need to do is slow down to find that a blessing is simply waiting to be found.

Paddle well.