Is This Awe About God?
I’ve heard that many people who attend church and believe in God, get a feeling of awe and know they are in the presence of God while at church. I don’t doubt they think and/or believe that God is the cause of their awe, but I know I have had such feelings when I’m nowhere near a church. Is this awe about God?
As I have stated in an earlier post, I’m unsure of what to believe regarding God and religion and therefore, assume I’m agnostic. In fact, I wrote that post attempting to explain my beliefs or lack thereof. I have also written two posts where I simulate a dialogue between an Agnostic and a Born-Again Christian. In those two posts, I take the role of the agnostic. If you would like to visit those posts, please click here for part A and/or here for part B. Perhaps, my point of view is the cause of my disbelief. Or maybe, my disbelief is the cause of my point of view. What an aweful dilemma. :-)
Let’s explore this feeling of awe. I’ll admit that when I attend a church service and the congregation is, in unison, chanting and singing, that I get a feeling which is best described as joy, glory, or yes, awe. Now, when I see a majestic mountain, a beautiful rainbow or a painted desert-scene, I also have an awesome experience. Were those awe about God?
Of course, all of my experiences mentioned previously are the “direct products” of Mother Nature and, often times, are directly attributed to God. But, what about the feeling of awe that I have when I see the St. Louis Arch? For example, I had a feeling of awe, last Spring, when I attended a wedding reception at Kemoll’s Restaurant (Top of the Met), in downtown St. Louis and viewed the Arch from the 42nd floor of 1 Metropolitan Square. (Below, is a picture of my view of the Arch) Another, but different example, is the awesome feeling I have when I see a good uplifting movie? My point is that just because a feeling of awe is experienced, there’s no way for that to be “proof” of the presence of God. Of course, it could awe be about God. I don’t know, but God knows! :-)
Before I go any further, allow me to explain my feeling of awe. It isn’t always the same and words seem inadequate. Sometimes, there is a sense of light-headedness. Sometimes, there is an overpowering sense of warmth going through my entire body. Sometimes, it is an uncontrollable urge to smile. A specific example where I had all three of the previous descriptions of awe occur was when I saw the majestic Alps from the small ski village of Filzmoos, Austria. Are awe the Alps about God?
My wife and I visited Filzmoos in September of 2001 with relatives who usually visit the village during ski season. Of course, there wasn’t any snow in the village at that time of the year, but the mountains that surrounded it were snow-capped and “awesome.” That visit stands out in my mind as a time when I had this feeling of awe. Was our visit awe about God?
I knew, while I was in Filzmoos, I would most likely never experience anything quite like that “awe” again. (NOTE: The picture at the beginning of this posting is a small example of what I saw, but it definitely doesn’t capture the entire feeling.) Of course, I have had and will have more feelings of awe, but I’m sure they will be considerably different from that one. Was this feeling reflecting the presence of God or the presence of an uplifting sense of self where I felt this was a unique special time in my life? I think the latter. Was our awe-filled experience about God?
I can understand how, due to the lack of being able to explain exactly what causes them, we might attribute these feelings of awe to a higher being. The agnostic in me allows for a response of: “I just don’t know.” On the other hand, it does not allow me to rationalize that such feelings are proof of a God’s presence. I’m in awe of what I don’t know!
Everybody – Christians, Zoroastrians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Mormons, Hindus, Scientologists, atheists, agnostics, etc. – have these feelings of awe. Some believe in one God and others in many gods. Some believe their God is the one true God. What do these feelings of awe mean? I guess only God knows. :-)
Should I have all of these doubts and still have it awe about God?
What do you know about your feelings of awe? Are they “awe” about God?
I am a Christian – a Lutheran pastor, and I find your reflection on awe refreshingly inspiring. I have eperienced awe in all of the venues you mention, including worship (formal/liturgical, and informal). I long ago stopped trying to sort out which experiences I could legtimately attribute to God. The God I have come to know would laugh at such distinctions. This God is incarnational – mixed up in everything – and would not have me driving wedges between what is sacred and secular.
And the reality that all sorts of people of faith and no faith have similar experiences of awe no longer troubles me. In fact, this reality is itself a huge source of awe, and leads my spirit to celebrate. Further, the claim of some in Christianity to believe in the one true God takes me to a place that is polar opposite from awe, and I am done with it.
The common denominator in all of my experiences of awe is that I feel myself in the presence of something larger than myself, and something worthy of my reverence, appreciation and dedication. One thing that continues to evoke awe in me is when I see someone living selflessly, consistently and without fanfare or notice, sacrificing in little and large ways to enhance the well being of another. This kind of living makes every other kind of living seem empty and I am awed by it.