I read my friend Terry’s daily “Sabbath Moment” on a regular basis. One reading last week especially caught my attention.
“Today invites savoring. Today gives birth to wholeheartedness, joy, empathy, compassion and connection. Gratefully, this isn’t a program or an assignment. It’s about embracing moments of wonder and awe. Moments that take us by surprise. Moments when you stop. Moments when you point. Stare. Smile. And let your heart swell.”
Then Terry quotes Rabbi Abraham Heschel, “Awe is the beginning of wisdom.”
The Book of Psalms says it this way, “The fear of the Lord (awe, reverence, respect) is the beginning of wisdom.” (Psalms 111:10)
Sometimes I am not really in touch with that part of my heart, but I want to be. Working in the yard this week, I spent more time complaining about the weeds, than experiencing the wonder of creation.
Heschel also suggests that when we forfeit our sense of awe, we lose the ability to revere God. That is when the universe becomes a marketplace. Ouch.
During this pandemic, I have had time to think about the shortcomings of our culture. Everything is in a rush, hurried and urgent. Instead of stopping to see the moments of awe, it is tempting to just add Jesus or God to the commercial real estate of our hearts.
I slid Him into the conversation with a liberal sprinkling of religious phrases and felt good about my Christianity. But what if authentic Christianity is something entirely different? What if it isn’t about rushing to church meetings, crowding my schedule with good deeds and using all the right phrases?
What if it is really supposed to be about “awe”?
Eugene Peterson points out that when we allow that to happen, we have some kind of "spiritual self-help consumerism (lead, teach, garden and cook like Jesus; 3, 4, 5, 10 or 21 laws, steps, or plans for the meaningful life), all of which leave us busier, more accomplished, but never filled."
I love the practice in Jewish tradition when children are given a taste of honey on their tongues during the celebration of the Torah. This is to remind them that the word of God is "sweet as honey" (Ezekiel 3:3).
It is a taste of “awe.”
This morning I received a call from someone I don’t know, who insisted he had received a call from our home phone. The caller ID said his name was Omar Habib and I knew we didn’t call him. A brief argument ensued. I was busy and annoyed. Finally, I said, “No one called you from this number. Furthermore, you are an idiot.” And I hung up the phone.
Apparently the conversation wasn’t quite over. Omar called me again and shouted a string of profanities into the phone, which further proved to me that we never called him.
However, I was left with a haunting conviction that I didn’t represent Jesus very well in that conversation. I acted on my belief that everyone who calls our home phone is probably trying to sell me something I don’t need, don’t want and probably can’t afford.
What if Omar called in search of a word of kindness? A brief encounter with the risen Christ? What if he dialed our number in human error, but God had a higher purpose?
The moments of awe that take our breath away are choreographed by God, but often go unseen because we are too busy, annoyed, skeptical, fearful or selfish to stop what we are doing and open our eyes.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
Sylvia Peterson is former co-pastor for Bald Hill Community Church and the author of “The Red Door: Where Hurt and Holiness Collide,” which can be purchased at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. She and her husband are chaplains for the Bald Hills Fire Department. You can email her at email@example.com.