Some months ago, as I was listening to the radio in my car, I was drawn into an interview with Julia Baird, one of the hosts of a television current affairs show. I didn’t know much about Julia, her relationship breakdown or her battle with cancer. I was also unaware of her interest in the spiritual, philosophical and religious life.
During the interview Julia spoke about ocean swimming and the remarkable - and very rare - experience of swimming among phosphorescent creatures living in the ocean. These microscopic life forms emit a sparkly, blue-green light and are truly spectacular. Julia then used the phrase “wonder and awe” to explain how she felt about this, and other similar experiences. This is a phrase that will be familiar to those who have celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation.
Julia went on to explain how essential it is to honour awe-inspiring moments that are gifted to us by the natural world, human nature or life experiences. She noted how important it is to train children to identify wonder, and to encourage awe in the world around them.
The interviewer suggested that some of the things we are in awe of could also evoke a sense of fear. For example, a mighty storm or tornado might provide a sense of wonder and awe, but it can also be incredibly frightening. Baird agreed.
However, she seemed to indicate that it’s helpful for humans to realise their “smallness” in comparison to the great and wonderful things going on around them. She noted that some of these awe-inspiring events were often catastrophic. However, it is through these events that we are called out of our insular worlds to connect and support those in need.
Baird said that her fight with cancer had heightened her sensitivities to finding wonder and awe in the everyday moments of her life. She also came to realise that this battle had forced her to let her guard down in order to let other people in to help her.
It seems that some people are naturally attuned to deliberately seeking out, acknowledging and sharing the moments of wonder and awe in their lives. Thank God for these people who successfully steal us away from the day-to-day trivia of our own lives.
Food for the Journey
In the Catholic tradition we believe that God’s Holy Spirit is with us. The Holy Spirit especially influences our lives as we are fully initiated into our faith through the sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation. The Holy Spirit gifts us with a number of traits that help us on our journey of life.
Among these gifts is one called “wonder and awe”. Many Catholics will recall that this gift is sometimes referred to as “fear of the Lord”. Pope Francis reminds us that this does not mean we should be afraid or scared of God. It means that we should acknowledge “how small we are before God and of his love and that our good lies in humble, respectful and trusting self-abandonment into his hands. This is fear of the Lord: abandonment in the goodness of our Father who loves us so much.”
I think this is what Julia Baird was getting at. When we experience God’s creation, in all its forms, our only response can be wonder and awe.
Our prayer this month is the one prayed by the Bishop during the Sacrament of Confirmation.
All-powerful God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
by water and the Holy Spirit
you freed your sons and daughters from sin
and gave them new life.
Send your Holy Spirit upon them
to be their helper and guide.
Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of right judgment and courage,
the spirit of knowledge and reverence.
Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
With every blessing,
The Catholic Enquiry Centre Team
Words: Sharon Brewer
This article is part of Faith Journey, a newsletter from the National Centre for Evangelisation.