I just can’t seem to get away from these words: awe and attention. Ever since last week, I’ve been aware of what I have been giving my attention to, and what opportunities I have to experience awe. On the one hand, we live in amazing times. I regularly refer to a computer in my pocket that wirelessly communicates with the world. If you had told me this in 1994, I would have thought you were kidding. We live in a world that is on the brink of 3D printing skin and organs for medical procedures. Not only do we have cars, but they are learning to drive themselves. Maybe those guys from the Lego movie were right: everything IS awesome.
You keep using that word
Of course, there is a flip side to this coin. If everything is awesome, then perhaps nothing is and we have just cheapened the word. I watched the TEDx talk below last week and it got stuck in my brain. Your sandwich is not awesome. Free wifi is not awesome.
There is a point of tension between “awesomeness can be found in everything” and “let’s save the word for when things are truly awesome.” I can easily become fascinated by all of things that came together to make my sandwich: the machine that is our agricultural and economic systems here in the U.S., the chemistry of cooking, the ubiquity of resources my ancestors never knew. Those revelations can be awesome. But does that make the sandwich awesome?
Is it just an issue of semantics? Has “awesome” come to mean something so much less than it used to mean? Is that a reality I just need to accept, because that linguistic ship has sailed? (Word meanings change. Geek used to mean, specifically, an entertainer that bit the heads off of live chickens. To be clear, I am not that geek.) Perhaps I just need to find a better word than things that are truly awesome.
And then he got all religious
I need to be honest. The reason this idea is stuck in my head is because I am professing Christian. I believe that an immeasurable love led God to pay an unfathomable price so that I could engage in a relationship with the Creator of All Things, seen and unseen. Surely, there needs to be a word to describe this relationship; to describe this God. “Awesome” would be an excellent choice for this.
But my sandwich was awesome.
And sometimes my understanding of God just isn’t.
There are moments when I really want to experience God’s awesomeness, but all I have are my own doubts, or my fatigue, or my indifference. I have plenty of “should be awesome, but isn’t” moments with God. I know that He is OK with these moments. I know that it is my incomplete or skewed perspective, not His character, that has led to an awesome-free moment. But …
What am I supposed to do when that movie was awesome, but my time in prayer was just blah?
Dude, it’s just a word
Obviously, this is about more than adjective choices.
Rather than asking “am I using the word correctly?”, I’ve been asking myself this: “Are awe and wonder a real part of my life?” It doesn’t matter what the word means if I am not experiencing it in a real way. To put it another way, I’d rather experience awe than label it correctly.
So I consider moments of awe in my life: my children being born, my first sunset over the Pacific, seeing the Milky Way with the naked eye, that sandwich (kidding). These moments matter to me because they change and inform my understanding of myself and the world around me. These moments matter because of their beauty. These moments matter because they are markers and sign posts in my timeline. I am changed when I experience awe.
And where was God in that list? For a guy who got so religious a few paragraphs back, one might think I’d have mentioned religious moments more. Honestly, I believe that I have. These moments of awe were holy moments for me. Seeing an endless horizon or all of the stars far away from the light pollution of civilization causes me to ask the same sort of questions the Psalmist asked “Who am I, that you are mindful of me?”1 Holding my children for the first time was such a kaleidoscope of awesome moments, I can’t even begin to catalog it. I only know those moments were holy.2
And, as I wrote last week, I’m worried that I am distracting myself from, and numbing myself to awesome. All these videos I watch and collect of stunning vistas, amazing achievements, and jaw-dropping feats can occasionally bring me to a moment where I am in awe, it is a moment I can enter into and be changed by, But more often than not, I end up thinking “that is so awesome for them.” I don’t think there are huge consequences to eating an awesome sandwich, but there are times when I feel like I am using that word because I wish it was my reality. But all I have is this sandwich.
I don’t have any plan to revise my semantics. (I grew up in the 80s. “Awesome” is deeply ingrained muscle memory at this point.) I’m reluctant to make my Bucket List of Awesomeness, because even if I did 100 awesome things this year, that still leaves me with at least half of a year that isn’t awesome. For now, I am going to embrace the truth buried in that ear-worm of a Lego song: there are opportunities to notice and even invite awesomeness in my life, to look for those moments when God would want to change me for the better. And hopefully, if I’ve been paying attention, I will be able to declare with all of the passion of that TEDx speaker: “That was awesome!”
Photo by moonlightbulb