To Experience Awesome
“Awesome” is the gift card of words. On rare occasions it’s exactly the word you want, but more often than not, it’s a cop out. On any given day, it’s a toss up whether I’ll use “awesome” to describe my wedding day, my cup of coffee, or my two-month-old’s most recent diaper. Only one of those deserves the word in its true meaning: an experience that inspires awe.
Putting such an experience into words is difficult. Moments of genuine awe leave us grasping for language to articulate what we felt, and that’s because such moments overwhelm us. When we are truly “in awe” of something, the logic and words we use to process our everyday obstacles and anxieties are overwhelmed by waves of emotion. It’s not a choice. It’s a reaction. Our bodies resonate like strings at the hand of a guitarist. The strings don’t think to vibrate, they simply cannot help themselves. Such is our reaction amid our favorite works of art, our favorite places in nature, or our favorite times with friends.
Sunday’s Gospel shows us two people amidst a genuinely awesome experience. John the Baptist experiences awe when he sees Jesus approaching. Line after line he tries to put into words the significance of the man before him. Andrew, too, appears awed by his experience spending the day with Jesus. He is so in awe of Jesus that he runs to his brother Simon and drags him back to go see Jesus. We only behave in such a way when we’ve experienced something awesome. We don’t watch a mediocre movie and then run to our friends and say, “You’ve got to come see this with me!”
When was the last time you experienced something that made you go grab your favorite person and drag them back so they could experience it too?
If you’re like me, it’s not as easy to remember as you might like.
Our culture invites us in so many ways to criticize ourselves and others. It demands we toughen up and persevere. It makes us believe we can figure it out for ourselves. It leaves no place for awe because we cannot “do” awe. Like God’s grace and mercy, we can only receive it.
But it’s rarely enough to encounter beauty, glory, holiness, or whatever other noun we might use to describe such an awesome experience. We must put our hearts and minds in a position to receive it. Where our culture demands we harden ourselves against others, we can soften our hearts with compassion. When our culture demands we do more, we can allow ourselves to accept the generosity and forgiveness of others.
We can look to Andrew the Apostle from Sunday’s Gospel for examples of how we might begin to make such a radical, countercultural shift in hearts and open ourselves to experiencing the awesomeness of God’s love:
1. Seek Role Models. In the Gospel, we are told that Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist. John wasn’t Jesus, but it’s apparent that what Andrew learned from John’s teaching prepared him to become a disciple of Jesus. It made me ask, “Who are my role models of faith?” It’s one thing to try to follow Jesus on our own, but there are also people from whom we may learn to receive Jesus’s message.
2. Seek Relationship. The Gospel tells us Andrew went to see Jesus with another of John’s disciples. Then, after spending the day with Jesus, he goes to get his brother. At no point in this process does Andrew act alone. He is constantly in relationship with others. I don’t mean to undermine the idea of an individual relationship with Christ, but we often try to go it alone when we don’t have to.
3. Seek Authenticity. Recognize that the first question Andrew and the other disciple ask Jesus is “Where are you staying?” Pastor Jim pointed out in his message that it’s creepy in our era to ask someone where they live, but the point is that Andrew asks a question that goes beyond “How’s it going?” or “What’s up?” It seeks to know the other person in a real way, not a superficial one. Not all of our efforts to get to know others are successful, but when the other person is open to deeper, supportive friendship and community, their response will often feel like they are saying, “Come and see.” There is a sense of mutual interest and mutual curiosity.
Lord, I pray that by studying and learning from Andrew’s example, our hearts might soften so that we may be in awe of each other and of all your creation. Remind us that we are called to do your work, but we are equally called to receive Your deep healing and abiding peace. Amen.