Did you ever take a morning walk on the beach as the sun was rising and feel overcome by the beauty of the moment? Have you had the opportunity to stand at the base of a gigantic redwood tree and look up toward heaven to contemplate the greatness of the one who created it? Think about those moments in your life when you have seen a display of nature that stops you in your tracks and overwhelms you. These are times of being awestruck!
The October 9 issue of Parade Magazine featured an article written by Paula Spencer Scott entitled "Feeling Awe May be the Secret to Healthy and Happiness." She quotes psychologists Dacher Keltner: "Awe is the feeling of being in the presence of something vast and beyond human scale that transcends our current understanding of things." In the year 2013, Keltner began a 3-year research project he calls "Project Awe." He discovered that awe can be experienced not only by looking at Niagara Falls or the Sistine Chapel or hearing the national anthem being sung by someone who "kills it," but also in simple things like "a friend is so generous you're astounded, or you see a cool pattern of shadows and leaves."
After three years of study Keltner and his team have come to the conclusion that awe is "now thought to be a basic part of being human that we all need." He says "human beings are wired to feel awe" and has listed some benefits that occur when we experience it: (1) Awe binds us together. "We realize we're a small part of something much larger. Our thinking shifts from me to we." (2) Awe helps us see things in new ways. It causes us to stop and consider new information. (3) Awe makes us nicer and happier, more generous, fair and ethical. (4) Awe alters our bodies. The research of Jennifer Stellar of the University of Toronto suggests that awe has a "possible role in health and healing." Studies have shown that awe helps reduce depression, lowers blood pressure and strengthens the immune system. Veterans Stacy Bare and Nick Watson co-founded "Veterans Expeditions" to take returning soldiers to awe-inspiring sites. Those suffering from PTSD experience relief.
Believers know who wired the need for awe into us. He is the King of Awe! "Dominion and awe belong to God; He established order in the heights of heaven." (Job 25:2) Have you ever heard someone say that there is a God-shaped hole in each of us and only God can fill it? That describes our need to connect with awe and the One who created it. If experiencing God's awe-inspiring creation transforms us, how much more does encountering Him?
The gospels recount the stories of how Jesus healed many people of diseases and physical ailments, Luke 5:26 tells us how those who experienced the healings felt. "Everyone was amazed and gave praises to God. They were filled with awe and said, 'We have seen remarkable things today!'"
Julie Mann is a teacher at Newcomers High School in Long Island City, NY. She has seen the studies on awe and takes her students on "Awe Walks" to connect them with nature or art. She says, "Kids who never talk in class or pay attention come to life." Paula Scott comments about this in her article. "Kids and grown-ups alike have fewer chances these days to find such transformative moments. We're increasingly stressed, indoors, plugged into devices and less tightly connected to neighbors and friends."
We should make it a point to include "awe moments" in our lives. We do it by taking in God's creation and connecting with Him by expressing our worship and awe of Him. Let us join the prayer of Habakkuk: "Lord, I have heard of Your fame; I stand in awe of Your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known..." (Habakkuk 3:2)
Joan E. Mathias