When I was in high school, the word ‘awesome!’ became commonplace in our daily conversations. A word that was meant to define what was truly spectacular and sacred was used to affirm a friend’s quiz mark or a new skateboard trick. While its decline in usage today is a relief to ELA teachers, we do need to recover the rarely felt emotion of ‘awe’ in our daily lives. In fact, awe is so needed in our world today that I’m going to do a whole series on this one word.
Working at the Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV), I have many opportunities for feeling awe. In fact, it is one of the reasons people like to visit museums. Awe is the wonder we feel when we encounter something that is significant, something that we can’t easily explain. It could be something in passing like the view of our village street in winter that makes me stop in my tracks as I walk past the hallway windows. Or it could be an intentional experience that we seek out, like walking out to the Berlin wall segment near our pond, putting our hands on it, and wondering how many people before us looked up at it with a deep yearning for freedom.
Unfortunately, when we are feeling down, most of us likely look for temporary relief in the way of a TV comedy, seek feelings of amusement through food, drink, or an escape room – all of which is not nearly as beneficial. Awe provides perspective. It shifts the mind from its slumber and cause us to notice there is more to life.
David Robson in his BBC article Awe: the ‘little earthquake’ that could free your mind explains how awe can free us from stubborn and biased thinking: “Awe-inspiring experiences – with their sense of grandeur, wonder and amazement – may confound those expectations, creating a “little earthquake” in the mind that causes the brain to reassess its assumptions and to pay more attention to what is actually in front of it… as people pay more attention to the specific nuances of an argument, rather than relying on their intuitions about whether it feels persuasive or not. This capacity to drop our assumptions and see the world and its problems afresh might also explain why the emotion contributes to greater creativity.”
In a world of divided opinions and subjective judgement we could use more awe to make us more humble, grateful, and open. Let’s be curious to what the Creator has in store for us each day. Museum experiences like the two I mentioned can change our perspective and be a lasting source for well-being. Moments of awe are waiting for us to seek them out, to stop us in our tracks and open our hearts to them and then to others. There are many ways to cultivate awe in our daily lives which we will look at in the next two weeks. Stay tuned!
Unfortunately, MHV’s year-end donations were down significantly in 2021. Please consider an extra gift to MHV today, so that we can continue to provide for the well-being of this generation and the ones to come.