Awe and Wonder: The Beginning of Wisdom

Many of us, perhaps most have had experiences of awe and wonder, moments where incredible beauty or majesty have seemed to stop time and we felt the world as a mysterious and miraculous place. I remember being awed seeing the snow cover the ground for the first time when I was 10 years old, and the wonder I felt at 26 when I trekked  onto the Tibetan plateau in Nepal and half the sky filled with the 26,000 + foot Machapuchere, the fishtail mountain, awed that something this large could even exist. At 30 it felt magical peering down into the Grand Canyon. And at 46 it felt truly miraculous the first time I held my daughter Lily immediately after her birth! Then there are the more common miracles such as seeing the flowers, smelling their heavenly fragrances and being transported to an ecstatic realm or feeling in love with a person, place or idea.

When I went to the Candler School of Theology I was taught in an Old Testament course that the word frequently translated as fear in the passage “ the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” comes much closer to describing feelings of awe, amazement, wonder, and heart-stopping transformations of consciousness rather than the fight/ flight / freeze response. Adrenaline is released but other chemicals such as endorphins and  oxytocin are as well. These communicate feelings of transcendent presence and awe which is the real foundation of the wisdom of Elohim ( the many in one).

Around 35 years ago I was working on ongoing issues in my life resulting from family pain and dysfunction including the effects of my father’s gambling and alcohol addictions and my mother’s strident codependency. I went to a retreat for adult children of alcoholics where the leaders used all sorts of techniques  to get us in touch with our pain, shame, and self-loathing. Eventually one of them had us lie on pads on the floor, taught us a rapid deep breathing technique, and began to play  intense emotional music. I lay there trying to do the breathing while feeling the music flow through my body. At first my mind did its usual negative chattering. Later however I began fully feeling sadness about myself and my family and the difficulties and anger we had experienced. I cried, sobbed and wailed! Then I felt my heart expand and melt as the pain began transforming into something else. My pain and the pain of every living creature was the same, the pain of the world. I felt God feeling this pain for us and in us and blending it with our joys and ecstasies! We all are part of Emanuel, which means “God with us” on the cross of Life, opening and filling our hearts with Compassion through forgiveness, reconciliation, resurrection and the release of the Holiest Spirit that loves and cares and cries and rejoices and exults with us and is The Miracle of the creation, God Herself!

And I am filled with awe and wonder!

Daniel Bailey

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