175. Awe

As I was walking along the Katy Trail near my home, I looked up to notice a Bald Eagle perched near the top of a tree that overhangs the path. Majestic, regal, awesome…words can’t capture the impression of seeing an eagle in the wild less than 60 feet away.

Photo by Robert Schnase. To view more pictures, please click the photo.

Bicyclists and runners and walkers were moving along the path, but none of them had noticed the bird as they passed by. But the experience was so rare and wonderful that I couldn’t help but want to share it, even with strangers. So I signaled to a couple of bicyclists racing by. They slowed to a resting position, eyeing me with a mixture of suspicion and irritation. I pointed up at the eagle, and they immediately caught the magic of the moment. “Cool! Awesome!” And then each spontaneously began to tell me their own eagle stories. “When I was a kid and I was canoeing in Minnesota with my dad, and we saw a nest….” “I remember in college when we went on a biology field trip…” After a few minutes of sharing stories, they thanked me and moved on, but I stayed to watch. A few minutes later, a runner came by. I dared to interrupt the music playing through her earphones, and she, like the others, showed extreme caution when I tried to get her attention. I pointed to the eagle, and she melted into the moment. After expressions of shear wonder and delight, she immediately began to talk about her mother’s love of eagles and how they had driven into the mountains to see one when she was a teenager. She called a friend on her cell phone to tell her that she was looking at a live, wild Bald Eagle right there in front of her!

During the next twenty minutes, I interrupted eight more people. The pattern repeated itself: suspicion and irritation, unexpected awe and joy, immediate and spontaneous sharing of a powerful memory from their own experience with eagles, and then expressions of gratitude for sharing the moment. Later, I wondered how many of these people told their families, friends, and loved ones when they returned home about the extraordinary encounter in the wild.

This is not a new experience for me in the world of birding. There are several places on the trails I regularly run and walk where I have identified the roosts of Barred Owls. They usually sit hidden deeply in thick brush, and I don’t give up their secret hiding places to passersby. But some evenings, one of the owls will be sitting in plain view, and I’ll stop runners, walkers, and sometimes even bicyclists to look. They are always amazed and delighted, and then they tell me about the owl that lived near their grandmother’s house, or the owl that flew across the road near their home the week before, or the owls they sometimes hear in the night.

There is a contagious and connecting quality to wonder. An unexpected encounter with awe interrupts the mundane and routine, breaks through suspicions and irritations, adds joy and depth, and draws us toward each other.

I think this partially explains the appeal of the early church, and also helps us understand the provocative and enchanting quality of congregations who offer worship that is alive, authentic, and profound, and which connects people to God. Congregations that provide serving ministries that help people experience the awesome power of Christ have a similar appeal. We feel drawn in by the mystery of grace and the majesty of God, and we can’t help but tell our own stories and share what we have experienced with others.

The second chapter of Acts describes the early church like this…

“Everyone around was in awe—all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met. They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved.” (Acts 2: 43-47 from The Message)

Awe, wonder, mystery, exuberance, joy, surprise, delight—these we see in Christ’s life and experience in the love of God. May others see them in us, and with us, through our witness in Christ’s name.

Yours in Christ,