I was preparing to write my first blog for the new year on “2020, the Year of Perfect Vision”. I have been saying this as we approached 2020 because it seems to me that faith gives us a different perspective – a new vision to guide our life. Humanity needs a new vision to save us from chaos and destruction. Jesus often talked about blindness being a problem for human beings.
However, two days after we got back from two weeks in Mexico my wife and I went to church to begin to re-connect with our life back in Calgary. One of our ministers, Don McLeod, chose Awe and Wonder as the theme for the service. I could feel myself wondering and anticipating as the service began. It felt different. There was no pulpit. The usual pattern was altered slightly. It was even more informal than usual, yet connected. Mary Oliver’s poem “Instructions for Living a Life: Be Aware, Be Astonished, Tell Someone” was read. And the choir anthem was “Everyday Miracles”. The scripture was from the Gospel of Thomas, second teaching: 2) “Jesus said, If you are seeking, continue seeking until you find it. But when you find it you will become troubled. And your troubling will give rise to astonishment. Being astonished, you will have power over all.”
Don began his sermon with a conversation with a young boy with whom he has been having conversations about God for over a year. The conversations began when the boy asked Don, ”Is it illegal for someone to come to church who doesn’t believe in God?” The conversation continued about the boy’s belief in science and there being no proof of God’s existence. It was about a seven-minute conversation that ended with the thought: Science is a new tradition that is introducing us to the universe we live in and are a part of. In this new way of looking we discover the everyday miracles of the sacredness of life. The universe really is a part of us, in and around us, and the more we pay attention to it the more we understand that it is a sacred body where we live and breathe and find our being (my summary).
Then Don told us the purpose of the sermon: “I want you to leave today with an inkling of awe and wonder; to be on the edge of your seat enough for you to be able to re-connect with the sacred in all things. Is that too much to ask?” My first response was “Yes it is”. This reaction surprised me and when I explored it, I realized that I felt that this focus on only the positive was too easy. Awe has both a negative and a positive side.
Don used the Aramaic Lord’s prayer, a favorite of mine. Our line in the current prayer “Lead us not into temptation”, from the Aramaic translates as “Do not let us be seduced by surface things and free us from what holds us back from our true purpose”: (Prayers of the Cosmos: Klotz p. 35). Faith is not only about fascination and seeing beauty all around us. It is about transformation. And that is scary. It takes a lot of trust to choose to pay attention to what scares us, to what is awe-ful in our life. This is the negative side of awe. Don made his point and supported it beautifully with illustrations both visually and in stories that showed a way to walk in faith. But I couldn’t help thinking that we also need a more expansive conversation about awe and walking in faith.
My wife and I were discussing this on the way home, and she said something about negatively awesome things that also call for our attention (we usually call them awe-ful). The writing from Thomas tells us if we see and explore more deeply, we will be troubled. And when we continue into trouble, we will find a way through human evil and misery and we will be astonished by the light and truth that emerges and this will change us. But it takes a lot of faith and trust to follow this path – and also a community of people along the way who can help us stay on the path.
The community we choose can lead us into blessing or disaster. How can a whole country go silently along with killing 6 million Jews and think that it is ok? How can the country south of us defend a leader who lies and who encourages prejudice? How can the people of Alberta elect a government that lies to us about the poor condition of the province, while ignoring the facts that we have the highest average income in Canada – and the lowest tax rate?
Human beings have a dark side and we want to blame someone else for anything that’s wrong. The translation in the bulletin of the Aramaic prayer was, “Do not let surface things delude you”, one of several translations of this phrase from the original. This interpretation jumped out at me. To interpret the saying this way is to blame someone or something else for my problems. But when you say, “Do not let yourself be seduced by surface things, it means surface things are just that – surface things. But if I allow them to define my life and do not look for deeper meaning and purpose, then that is what I’ve chosen and I could choose differently. I can choose to stay with the issue and move into confusion and not knowing until I find the foundation of love where life is rooted and changed. Where I am changed. But it costs us, and it blesses us when we do that. If we take seriously what we have done to our indigenous neighbours for hundreds of years, and what reconciliation entails, it will be expensive to change our ways.
I believe that faith is not an easy path. And while we can find the sacred and experience awe and wonder everyday in beauty and nature and children and animals, there is another experience of awe and wonder when we pay attention to the awe-ful, and are filled with wonder at how this can be. We may find ourselves on the path described in the Gospel of Thomas.
Listen to the sermon (the video may be posted later)