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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!”