Corona Sabbath 25 WONDER and AWE Reflection Text

Greetings and welcome to Corona Sabbath. This is one of the ways the church is endeavoring to offer spiritual support during these challenging days of COVID-19. We appreciate your feedback and suggestions.

In this summer series on the theme “Grounded” we turn the foundations of our faith. This post focuses on wonder and awe.

We listen to Psalm 19 verses 1-6 and a reading from astronaut Edgar Mitchell read by Colleen Coughenour.

Video from Colleen

Psalm 19 verses 1 through 6:

The heavens herald your glory, O God
and the skies display your handiwork.
Day after day they tell their story,
and night after night they reveal
the depth of their understanding.
Without speech, without words,
without even an audible voice,
their cry echoes through all the world,
and their message reaches the ends of the earth.
For in the heavens the sun has pitched a tent.
It comes forth with the grandeur of a wedding procession,
with the eagerness of an athlete ready to race.
It rises at one end of the sky
and travels to the other end,
and nothing escapes its warmth.

Next is a quotation from US astronaut Edgar Mitchell reflecting on seeing planet Earth from space for the first time:

Instead of an intellectual search, there was suddenly a very deep gut feeling that something was different. It occurred when looking at Earth and seeing this blue-and-white planet floating there, and knowing it was orbiting the Sun, seeing that Sun, seeing it set in the background of the very deep black and velvety cosmos, seeing – rather, knowing for sure – that there was a purposefulness of flow, of energy, of time, of space in the cosmos – that it was beyond man’s rational ability to understand, that suddenly there was a nonrational way of understanding that had been beyond my previous experience.

There seems to be more to the universe than random, chaotic, purposeless movement of a collection of molecular particles.

On the return trip home, gazing through 240,000 miles of space toward the stars and the planet from which I had come, I suddenly experienced the universe as intelligent, loving, harmonious.

Reflection from Kim on video

So, in church, when we are having church, in the regular style, pre Corona, we say lots of things. There are lots of words used. There are readings. Calls to worship. Hymns and songs and anthems with words. There are prayers. Readings from the Bible. Benedictions. There are announcements and conversations. And, of course, there is a sermon. There are lots and lots of words spoken and sung in church. We clearly have things that we want to say. That we are trying to communicate.

In the Psalm we heard, there is reference to the planets and space, the sun, resonating, and yet no word is heard:

Day after day they tell their story,
and night after night they reveal
the depth of their understanding.
Without speech, without words,
without even an audible voice,
their cry echoes through all the world,
and their message reaches the ends of the earth.

No words and yet their message is heard, conveyed to the ends of the Earth. But we are not balls of rock or gas floating through space. We are human beings with voices. And one of the defining characteristics of our species is language. So, we are meant to use words. But even with all of our words, can we say it all, clearly, so that it reaches the ends of the Earth?

You could say that we are talking so much in church because we are trying to convey, to capture, to express, what is really beyond words. We use lots of words trying to say what we want to communicate yet knowing that words cannot say it all. That what is going on is more than words can express. The problem is not the words. Not their inadequacy. It is that we as human creatures we have an awareness that there is that which exceeds our full comprehension and expression. The birth of a baby. Being present at the passing of a life. Heartbreaking grief. There can be an intensity – of feeling, of space, of awareness, of beauty, of sacrifice, of loss, of confusion, of mystery, of convergence. So many things are really beyond our ability to explain or fully comprehend. In the life of the spirit, in our religious life, we seek to be aware of these things while knowing that we cannot completely express or understand what we are experiencing.

Faith is about an awareness of the beyond. The beyond in ourselves, in others, in the world around us. It is an attempt to come to terms with what cannot be measured, displayed on a graph, or scientifically accounted for.

So, we use lots of words to try to say something about awe, wonder, and mystery. Knowing that we cannot capture it all, that our human experience and consciousness, that things of the spirit, go beyond words and numbers.

Just after the September 11 attacks, we went to a Florida orchestra concert. Stefan Sanderling was the conductor. I was interested in how that moment was going to be acknowledged at the concert. Would they play something special? Would there be some kind of extraordinary musical moment? Sanderling announced that there were times when the only fitting response was silence. And there was a prolonged period of silence. And then the concert began.

Even music. Even visual images. Cannot say it all. Yet much is experienced. With our words in church, we are pointing to what is beyond words. We are affirming that there is much more going on than just the mundane material transactions and interactions of our day to day lives. The universe is carrying on and we are created with the awareness that we do not comprehend it all.

We see that which is beyond words when we think about the power of nature on this planet. These recent storms, two in the Gulf at once. The wild fires in California. The derechos in the midwest. The virus that is ravaging the globe. There is awe, wonder, and mystery around these forces that are at work in the world around us breaking into our routine and our reality.

We can be stunned by the creativity of the human spirit. The beauty of the music created by the Florida Orchestra often leaves me in tears. What is it about a group of people showing up with their instruments and playing notes that so enchants my spirit? It’s beyond words. Awe. Wonder. Mystery.

We can also be left without words about things that are destructive, heinous, even evil. Recently as I learned of the killing of Dijon Kizzee – another black person killed by the police – I found myself left with a sense of awe and wonder and mystery. How is it that the police just keep doing it again and again and again – killing black people. Just shooting them down. Within minutes of an encounter. It leaves me in stunned awe. Speechless wonder. I cannot understand. Maybe we need to send police officers up in a rocket so that they can look back at the Earth like Edgar Mitchell and experience “the universe as intelligent, loving, harmonious.”

That’s what faith helps us to see, without the rocket ride. That we are living in a world that is good and that the experience of being alive cannot be fully explained or expressed. And that the awareness of the unknown, beyond words, makes us fully human, whole, and holy.

So, yes, I have just used a lot of words to remind us that Christianity, the way of Jesus, Love, involves cultivating the capacity of the human spirit to embrace awe, wonder, and mystery. Beyond words. Without all the answers. Amen.

(Click HERE if you wish to see the post containing the video of this text.)

Author: Rev. Wells

Pastor of Lakewood United Church of Christ since 1991. Graduate of Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary of New York.

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