A Touch of Awe
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,
where never lark, or even eagle, flew;
and, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
the high untrespassed sanctity of space,
put out my hand and touched the face of God..”
(“High Flight” by John Gillespie McGee, 1941)
I know the feeling. I’ve been enamored with flight for as long as I can remember. I earned a Private Pilot License when I was in my 20’s. Flying was awe inspiring for me. There were many times when I sensed God’s greatness and presence—when, “I put out my hand and touched the face of God.” I was reminded of the importance of awe during my recent trip to Montana.
One day during my Montana trip, I stood near the top of the world. The view from the Beartooth Pass at 10,947 feet above sea level was spectacular. There were a few mountain peaks that were a little higher, but that didn’t matter. I literally could see for miles, and miles, and miles and miles! Wow! I stood still listening to the whistle of the wind and feeling its gentle nudges–in awe of the world around me. In that moment, I caught a glimpse of God.
The Beartooth Pass was the end of a day of driving that began a little north of Yellowstone National Park. I’d entered the park at the North Entrance and viewed the Mammoth Hot Springs. I’d taken pictures of elk, bison, wolves and a few majestic panoramas. I’d left Yellowstone and travelled to the East to Cody, Wyoming along a road that followed the Shoshoni River and enjoyed some fantastic, inspiring scenery. From Cody I travelled up the Chief Joseph and Beartooth Scenic Bypasses. In truth, throughout the day I felt as if I was on holy ground.
Awe isn’t an everyday experience for me, and I suspect that it isn’t for you, either. We get so caught up in the everyday demands of life that awe gets crowded out. It’s difficult to find awe in a packed bus, a fast food burger or a child with an ear ache in the middle of the night. Though awe is not an everyday occurrence, that does not diminish the importance of awe.
Awe breaks in to our little world and reminds us that there is something bigger. Awe helps us gain perspective and causes us to be aware of the fact that there is something more important than getting that promotion, having our child make the team or finding a parking spot near the store entrance. Awe offers us a peek at the divine.
We are sometimes surprised by awe. There is the awe of coincidence—when we meet an old classmate, whom we haven’t seen in years in a distant city. Narrowly avoiding a tragedy such as a car accident, or some such incident, can cause us to be overwhelmed with a sense of awe. Sometimes we stumble upon awe, like the time we came out of a restaurant after an evening meal and were awed by a gorgeous sunset.
We cannot create awe, but we can make ourselves available to it. We can wait for a sunrise or a sunset, or stay awake and gaze at a star filled sky. Situating ourselves in awe filled places—from art museums to concert halls, and from mountain summits to desert landscapes gives us opportunities to be awed. The Bible can awe us. Sometimes, though, we get so caught up in explaining the Bible in a logical, intellectual manner that we are blind to the awe inspiring relationships God has with people.
Is awe necessary for life? No. Is awe necessary for a disciple of Jesus Christ? No. But awe can sure make life more interesting. Awe can also make God more real by reminding us of God’s presence and power.
Today, open yourself to experience awe and see what happens.