The Power of Awe

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”   Marcel Proust

My own voyage of discovery has taught me to fix my eyes not on the peaks and valleys of life, but on the horizon where the mind is opened, the heart is restored, and the soul comes in contact with — awe.

This past year tested my ability to see the horizon. I’ve frequently caught myself either doomscrolling or daydreaming, locked in battle between the no longer and the not yet.

There are a number of ways to bring myself back to being present. One of those is the powerful force of awe.

David Byerly describes awe as “a powerful emotion typically experienced in the presence of something great or vast. Researchers refer to it as an ‘epistemic’ emotion because the kinds of objects that induce awe are rich in information: that is, awe often challenges a person’s existing understanding of things and motivates a search for explanations. Awe is associated with a dropping of the jaw and an open, gaping mouth. When we experience awe, we’re stunned by something, enraptured by it.”

So I was overjoyed when Marsha and I bumped into a jaw-dropping sunset on a walk through Grand Avenue Park in Everett.

The breathtaking scene stopped my world and, for a brief moment, transported me back in time to August, 1962.

It was just a month after my dad had died and Mother was desperately trying to help herself, and her five young children, through the shattering event. She decided we needed a trip to the Olympic Peninsula where we could be in nature. Mother loved the outdoors and as children we regularly visited campgrounds in the Pacific Northwest. It was where came together as a family.

Mother knew we needed something special. She knew we needed an experience so jaw-dropping that, for at least for a moment, we’d be released from the anguish of Dad’s passing.

She decided to take us to Hurricane Ridge.

Imagine yourself standing at the top of the ridge,

or trekking along the trail,

or encountering deer on the meadow,

or encountering a beautiful vista,

or camping at the water’s edge on Staircase Stream.

Those are the sights we encountered in 1962 and there is where I had my first memorable encounter with awe. As a 13-year-old seventh grader from St. Anne’s School, it felt like we were visiting heaven itself, God’s house where we could only hope to go when we died, where maybe even Dad had found his new home. 

I felt way beyond happy. 

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. … There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

God did find a way to minister to our grief-stricken little family, and Mother, whether she knew or not, introduced her children to the means to visit the “other world” in the midst of this world.

I’m reminded we all have a way out of the valley of the shadow of death. Just visit your own backyard on some cloudless night, set your gaze upon the heavens and join all those who, throughout the ages, have dropped their jaw and bent their knee, in a state of awe, in presence of the Creator of us all.

Just a thought…


Copyright © 2021 Patrick J. Moriarty. All Rights Reserved.

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