This at least seems to me the main problem… How can we contrive to be at once astonished at the world and yet at home in it? …How can this world give us at once the fascination of a strange town and the comfort and honor of being our own town?
– G.K. Chesterton
The path of awe seems well worn. It’s a journey intended to bring us down to size. Pictures of our galaxy with a note that there are 100 billion more just like it. Videos of deep-sea creatures with bioluminescent bodies. Images of the northern lights that are utterly otherworldly. All of them remind us that the universe is vaster than we can imagine. All of them leave us with a sense of wonder that overwhelms. We are brought to the edge of what we can wrap our minds around. It’s like staring into an incomprehensible abyss. One can’t help but feel humbled and small.
But religion has never wanted us to stop there. Hold tight it says. I know it’s hard but trust us: the path doesn’t end with a deep darkness that doesn’t care. Just stand at the abyss a bit longer. Lean in just a little bit more. And when you do so, suddenly an invitation emerges from that awe-full abyss. You look into the vast mystery and surprisingly, it stares back, as if to say, “Welcome home.”
As physicists tell us, contemplation of the vast universe doesn’t make them feel smaller, it makes them realize the larger story of which they are a part. We are stardust, as they say. From the vastness we came and to it we will return again. In other words, to be a people of awe is not so much about feeling small; it’s about feeling connected.
And not just connected to the stars, but also to each other. Awe reduces our size in order to make room for something more than our personal needs, wants and worries. With our narcissism shrunk down to a reasonable proportion, it becomes possible to notice that we are not the only ones up there on the stage. It’s in this way that looking up into the cosmos allows us to look across at each other. And it’s a huge gift, because while being center stage and center of the universe can feel powerful, it’s also a very lonely place to stand.
So friends, don’t just look up at the stars over the next couple of months. Let that looking up also lead to you looking across. And in doing so, may you – like our friend G.K. Chesterton – not simply be astonished at the universe but also feel at home in it.