Staying in love and awe
When put together, love and awe can show the fragile ego just how beautiful life can be
By Diane and Michael Boover
We humans have the aptitude to move from microcosm to macrocosm. This ability to entertain “the big picture” or the “divine plan” is perhaps the place where love and awe most awaken in us. People who exercise this quality of moving from the smaller to the larger picture seem to grow increasingly conscious of the beauty and love that surround them.
That said, even they are vulnerable to reaching adulthood with some measure of accumulated hurt. Pained experience can dull or deaden the sense of being loved, lovable, and “wonderfully made.” How we respond to assaults on our human dignity, which inevitably come our way as we grow, can either “make us or break us.” People who have been receptive to love are more likely capable of shifting attention from the microcosm of localized suffering to the macrocosm of universal forgiveness.
The ability to pardon allows for healing, for a return to lost or misplaced love, to a more blessed awareness of our connectedness to the divine, to each other, and all creation. We slowly learn how to become artists or saints in this divine plan of human existence. The experience of being loved and discovering in ourselves the capacity to love in turn recreates us, makes us somewhat new.
Revisiting the Romantics
The Romantics of the 19th century lamented a perceived loss of innocence in the face of threats posed to nature by the destructive power of industrial machinery altering the once-pastoral landscape. The joy of just being was threatened by seemingly desperate doing. The 1939 novel by Richard Llewellyn How Green Was My Valley, which several years later became a celebrated film, updated the cry of the Romantics for the 20th century.
A friend met in the mid-1970s, Rocky Buffalo, lived at a communal farm in Vermont, where he distributed a homemade booklet of poems and homespun wisdom. Rocky adorned his cover with feathers he collected. “The struggle of the true warrior is the recapture of the child’s laugh,” was how he put things. As a spiritual descendant of the Romantics, Rocky decried the end of wonder, seeing in such an end to much that is good.
Young Greta Thunberg, the 16-year old Swedish girl recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her bold climate activism, echoes the plaintive cries of the Romantics as well. How can we recover love and wonder? How can we heal from so much personal and social desecration of both inner and outer environments? Can our families be the locus of a needed functional recovery?
Reawakening in the family
In the making of a family, love and awe are the driving forces that lead to a marriage of two people. They are also the forces that reawaken when a new life emerges. These same qualities of being are just what are needed to nurture this new life through childhood. They can fall away when parents become exhausted, especially in the first four years of parenthood, and perhaps this is the time when meditation becomes most necessary.
Just a few minutes of attention in time and space, to focus on love and awe can make all the difference. Just “breathing in” the moment can create an awareness that captivates instead of frustrates. This same moment can remind us how beautiful things are, instead of how annoying they seem. To be in the moment as to look into the face of children when you “think” they are naughty might help you see that they are being delighted! Their exuberance is not misbehavior.
Love and awe revive when our children start to bring new friends and new activities in our lives. These new people and events are often not who or what we would choose for ourselves. For example, we never liked opera or Shakespeare, and yet, our oldest child is an opera singer and our youngest is a Shakespearean actor. These children and their friends have brought us to a new awareness of beauty, style and form. Another child is a psycho-physical therapist and has taught us how to take better care of body and mind. The remaining child has taken us on adventures all over the country where he sings, dances and performs in plays, musicals and comedies.
Revitalizing a default mode
It is easy to live life without joy and delight, but that would be a shame. Advances in brain science have helped to locate the ego within the posterior cingulate cortex, and within this section of the brain lies the “default mode network.” The network’s function is to make life as easy as possible, given the many possible attractions and assaults to this fragile ego of ours.
The only problem with this default mode network is that it also dulls our recognition of love and awe. It is up to us to choose to awaken our egos to these qualities of being in a careful and commonsensical way. The brain scans of meditators of many years show that these people are vitally attentive to love and awe with constancy. That is living life to the full, even though to this “brave new world,” it looks like doing nothing.
The late Catholic contemplative and spiritual teacher Thomas Keating offered a means to let go of accumulated distress in order to experience more fully the divine life and love that is always emanating from our source at the ground of our being. The challenge is to be receptive to God’s presence and activity as vulnerable humans. Keating invites spiritual seekers to commit to a process of growth instigated by Christian contemplation, or what has come to be popularly known as “centering prayer.”
Open to the Holy Spirit at work in us, we recover our identity as God’s beloved children and do so experientially and sincerely. We are thus transformed, indeed moved, to go beyond the egoic to share in the very life of the Trinitarian God, who has graciously invited us into intimacy with the divine persons. Such is an invitation to the restoration of innocence and wonder.
It is a call to emulate those natural childlike qualities Jesus taught us we must have if we are to enter into the kingdom of heaven — to receive life and redemption as sheer gifts. A trustful and properly dependent disposition makes life full at every stage of love and awe, perpetually open to the graced energies of blessed renewal.
Love and awe are two things that, when put together, can show the fragile ego just how beautiful life can be in its short span of existence. If we look around the world, we can see egos without these qualities wreaking havoc everywhere, in war, competitions, in criminal enterprises, in governments, in businesses and even in our neighborhoods and families.
We can only think of the words of Jesus while hanging from a cross because the people rose up to kill their God: “Forgive them for they know not what they do” (see Lk 23:34).
We hope to teach our children how to avoid the worse pitfalls in life and focus on love and awe, so that they “may have life and have it more abundantly,” for “Behold,” he said, “I make all things new” (see Rev 21:5).
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