There is no moment so laden with awe as when you hold your child for the first time. The experience is preserved in my memory like a snapshot in a photo album. I won’t speak of the hours leading up to it, but when the midwife lifted my son into my arms and his skin was pressed against mine, the world stopped.
Awe wrapped us in a glorious mummy-baby bubble, where everything outside was reduced to what sounded like the gentle murmur of music on the breeze.
We looked, making silent introductions, although we already knew each other. I remember his fragility; tiny fingers and toes, downy skin and mighty lungs! There was something immensely tender and humbling that happened in that first encounter that will never, ever leave me. A new mother accepting her new child.
Many years ago I wrote a piece lamenting the injustices of being born a woman. In my pre-mother state, I mounted my soaring stead and decried the natural way of things, that a woman must endure the horrors of pregnancy and labour, that she must sacrifice her career and body for the good of the family.
What can I say? I was young and naïve. A midwife wrote me a letter, articulate, pointed and yet forgiving, saying that I had painted an untruthful picture and that she hoped one day I would know different.
Mrs Midwife – you’ll be pleased to know that I have arrived! I see things differently and the missing ingredient was the sense of awe at being part of something so much bigger than myself: the creation of another life.
When was the last time you were swallowed up by the feeling of pure, unbridled awe?
We watched whales breaching a few hundred metres from where we stood on the beach at Eaglehawk Neck once. Another time, in Pompeii, we were confronted with the petrified body of a poor man who succumbed to the eruption of Mt Vesuvius. Nearly 2000 years later, we could see the terror in his limbs.
Awesome is one of those examples of how the English language has been hijacked by throw-away, blasé, flippantism (my word, and yes, I see the irony in my word butchering). Once it meant ‘to be filled with awe’, now it’s just another faddish way to say ‘good’.
In the absence of a word to describe this overwhelming feeling, this bubbling up of gratitude and joy, and perhaps a small awakening of where our stitch fits into the tapestry of life, what do we say?
“I have no words.”
“Words cannot do justice to how I’m feeling right now.”
This is the way awe finds expression – ironically, in non-expression!
Throughout the Bible there is encouragement upon encouragement for us to take time to stand in awe of the world around us.
“The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy,” Psalm 65:8 reads, and in Isaiah 29:14, “I will astonish these people with wonder after wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish; the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.”
A child’s sense of awe is insatiable, and how often do you find yourself wishing you had the simple ‘joie de vivre’ of a child?
The words ‘awe’ and ‘fear’ hold a synergy in the Bible that still proves a mystery to many. There is the consistent teaching that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 110:10, Proverbs 9:10 and Proverbs 1:7). Think of it as an awe style of fear.
The concept comes down to this: standing in awe of life, nature and God is integral to understanding and revering what is most important.
Don’t lose your sense of awe.
First published in The Examiner newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday November 11, 2013.