Turning points in contemplative life:
Uncovering the healing power of awe
It is a great privilege to honour Brian and Patrica Stitt through this Oration today. I was minister at Dianella Church of Christ (now Living Grace Church) for nine years and it was there I first met the Stitts and learned of their long practice and teaching of the contemplative life. I was excited by their vision for what we now know as Dayspring. I saw its potential for fostering spiritual growth and depth, not only among those already committed to the contemplative life in the wider Perth community, but also in our church. So began Dayspring. It is as instigators of this venture, as well as their deep personal input into our lives, that we celebrate the Stitts today.
I had come earlier to an appreciation of the contemplative life through a Christian background, possibly quite different from yours. My father, a pastor, theologian, and teacher, sometimes seen as a mystic by his students, had some favourite themes. He would diverge at every opportunity, for example, into contemplating the wonderful hesed love of God for his people and unite that intimacy with a focus on God’s glory, seen like Elijah, in the still small voice. He delighted in discussing life and theology with me over the washing up or on the drive to school and so I inherited his desire for that combination – the intimacy of being loved by the Father in reflective meditation, combined with experiencing the otherness and majesty of the Creator, especially for me now, in the wide outdoors.
Coming from a Baptist background, I didn’t realise how unique that joining together was. However, some years later I discovered Richard Foster’s category of Christian traditions in his Streams of Living Water, and found I identified most closely, not with the Evangelical or Charismatic streams which were part of my background. I appreciated the Contemplative, but it was the Holiness stream that made sense of my desire to centre my life in God in a contemplative way, but with a view to how to live godly, serving the community.
Two other aspects of my background are relevant to the topic of this Oration. My initial academic research was concerned with social systems, leading to employment as a city planner for a number of years in the U. S. in what was a very volatile time in that country. I continue to have a strong sociological interest in societal wellbeing, especially through collective pastoral care, writ large in communities, and in the church. This was the focus of my doctoral work. Psychotherapist Roger Hurding’s pathways to pastoral care is helpful here. His five pathways cover Biblical Counselling, Healing Ministries, the more general Pastoral Counselling, Spiritual Direction and Social Change. From his list, I embrace both general pastoral care as well as social change as my interests, but my inclination is always towards integration. So I endorse the coming together of Foster’s streams and Hurding’s pathways as contributing to a rich wholeness, a shalom, and one that Dayspring encourages.
All of this is to say that I do not identify primarily as a contemplative, nor have I trained in spiritual direction, but I love the many practices that the contemplative life offers and I long to see many people find reality and solace in a deeper relationship with God as both Creator and Father. This corrective is needed very strongly in Australian society today. Let me explain.
WESTERN SOCIETY TODAY
Opportunity to travel and work in other cultures helps us see our own worldview more clearly. At home, we are like the frog in the kettle, slowly coming to the boil without realizing the danger. I would argue that experiencing Asian honour and shame cultures in particular, has given me a revised perspective on western society.
Although we Australians do not live under the constraints of an honour and shame culture, many of us here at this Oration grew up in the twentieth century, experiencing the kind of rigidity and restrictive role definition that are characteristic of an honour and shame society. So we must first acknowledge we are grateful that today we have more equity, wider access to education, and freedom to explore how God has gifted us as a legacy of the western worldview. We are glad our identity is not defined solely by the family or class or nation into which we were born. In my case, I had new opportunity to respond in mid-life to God’s call to pastor as a woman. For my husband, it meant he was to go on to university and not leave school at 14 for a sheet-metal apprenticeship as his father did. But it is becoming obvious that the cost in our present century and society of that freedom is that identity is considered so fluid and free of outside constraints, that the search for it is a prolonged life struggle.
The common explanation of the problems in our western post-modern society today is that we have lost what were historically Christian-based values in a morass of consumerism, expressed as the lure of money, sex, and power. These dangers are, of course, not new. It was against them that the early Christians developed vows of poverty, chastity, and humility. In recent decades, Richard Foster has written succinctly regarding them, as has Tim Keller, warning in 2009 about what he calls the counterfeit gods of western society – “the empty promises of love, money and power”.
But I am convinced that a more nuanced analysis of contemporary western society is needed now, one that offers the possibility of the contemplative life being an underappreciated but much needed response and tool in today’s world. I address this as an introduction to offering the experience of awe as a corrective.
THE PREDICAMENT OF WESTERN SOCIETY
In the last few decades, rather than rail against mindless consumerism, observers of American society such as sociologist Robert Bellah, have introduced the term, expressive individualism, to explain the primary value taking hold in western society. They assert that the tension between individual expression and community good has tipped too far in the direction of individualism, at the expense of community. This is manifesting in growing selfish behaviour and exploitation of others. It is the dynamite beneath what we think of as the Enlightenment implosion, bemoaned by scientists like my husband and those wanting acceptance of the facts of climate change.
This is a deeper understanding of twenty-first century western society’s malaise than blaming consumerism, whose excesses in the arenas of money, sex, and power are only symptoms, external manifestations of a profound and urgent personal impetus to focus exclusively on uncovering one’s identity to make the best of life.
Within the term expressive individualism, we understand what individualism means. It involves distancing oneself from community, putting the focus solely or primarily on me, myself and I, as Christian psychologist Arch Hart titles his early book on the search for self-fulfillment in the self. The addition of the word expressive in this concept, makes the self-focus even more emphatic, asserting that for the self to be heathy, it must be uncovered, displayed, and validated, over-riding all other values and all other persons in the process. Bellah explains: “Expressive individualism holds that each person has a unique core of feeling and intuition that should unfold or be expressed if individuality is to be realized.” He adds:
What we fear above all, and what keeps the new world powerless to be born, is that if we give up our dream of private success for a more genuinely integrated societal community, we will be abandoning our separation and individuation, collapsing into dependence and tyranny. What we find hard to see is that it is the extreme fragmentation of the modern world that really threatens our individuation; that what is best in our separation and individuation, our sense of dignity and autonomy as persons, requires a new integration if it is to be sustained.
Observers argue that this understanding of self, called by philosopher Charles Taylor the ‘buffered’ self (that is, it had strong borders against the outside world) is going too far in trying to replace the previous ‘porous’ self which found its identity in societal and family expectations. They suggest that it is this quest to find one’s identity solely in the self, that has contributed to weakening marriage and family ties, society fragmenting into left-right extremes and silos, and to growing economic inequality. These observable trends are public manifestations of the self-focus shift in the West.
One example in popular culture sometimes quoted to illustrate this trend to finding identity internally, only in the self, is the song sung to Maria by the Mother Abbess in The Sound of Music.
Climb every mountain,
Ford every stream,
Follow every rainbow
‘Till you find your dream.
However, I’ve always loved that song. I hear it as the Mother Abbess encouraging Maria, in her search for identity, to discover the Creator’s imprint in her life, even at the cost of not pursuing her postulant calling within the Abbey. It is the theme of my recent book, Finding Your Voice.
A clearer example of finding identity in the self alone, is Elsa’s “Let it go!” cry from the Disney movie Frozen – an anthem loved by many young girls (and older ones too!)
It’s time to see what I can do,
To test the limits and break through,
No right, no wrong, no rule for me.
Having inherited the task of ruling her kingdom, Elsa is abdicating her queen responsibilities in search of personal freedom and a new identity. But at what cost to society, to the kingdom?
Expressive individualism means putting my rights ahead of anybody else’s; not acknowledging that I need anyone else around me to live my life well, and certainly not looking for a Higher Power or a Creator outside of myself. Many people without thinking, may live their lives this way, not accepting responsibility for anyone else or any obligation to the collective society. But widespread acceptance and endorsement of expressive individualism means that this supreme value of my self and my rights, is legitimately asserted vigorously and understood as a ‘good’ that no one can argue against.
A recent, much publicized example was a riot in Union Square, New York. It began when an influencer with many millions of followers, offered to distribute free Xboxes to whoever turned up in the square at the nominated time. But when he arrived late, and with far fewer Xboxes to give away than the number of people who had gathered, the crowd rioted. It was not just a protest or an expression of disappointment. The crowd were taking out their frustration on anything and anybody: police, shopkeepers, even each other, because they had been denied their right to an Xbox. Expressive individualism says that my rights trump the rights of everyone else. Moreover, you do not have any right to impinge on me, because you will be impeding my right to full expression of my identity.
Individual human rights have long been championed by Christians affirming that every person is created in the image of God and so should be treated equally and sympathetically. This understanding has historically issued in Christians establishing schools and hospitals available to all, and leading the hospice movement, for example. But the Christian ethos has also asserted that our rights exist in community, which means accommodating to, and serving, others. Giving as well as taking.
The critique of consumerism in western society is usually that the gods of money, sex, or power are displacing worship of the one true God, revealed to us as Creator, and in Jesus, as Father. Or maybe it is the other way round: that denying the sovereignty of the Creator has led to worshipping money, sex, or power in the resulting vacuum. As novelist David Foster Wallace has argued:
Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual thing to worship . . . is that pretty much anything else you choose to worship will eat you alive.
But when sociologists such as Bellah describe a significant post-modern shift in our self-concept to the self-in-isolation, the self becomes the highest value, higher than the other gods. The self is now what is worshipped, and this is proving to be a useful analytical tool for commentators seeking to understand the rising tide of societal problems: loneliness, for example. A recently released Australian State of the Nation Report into Social Connection, titled Ending Loneliness Together, reported a survey of 4000 adult Australians. Nearly one third said they often felt lonely or disconnected. This was highest in the 18-24 age group. Moreover, people who described experiencing frequent loneliness were found to be many times more likely to suffer from chronic disease, depression, social anxiety, and overall poorer wellbeing. In the youngest group, loneliness was also associated with a high percentage of social media addiction.
Similarly, suicide numbers are also increasing, again with a high representation among young adults. When individuals insist on their right to choose this drastic action (including through assisted dying), social analysis suggests they are expressing the ideology of exclusive ownership of their own body and the consequences for those around them are unimportant compared to their personal right to exercise agency. A similar argument is made about the right to adopt a gender based on internal feelings, when it is at variance with objective observation.
A recent article examining the alarming trend in Canada of a rising number of suicides, describes this understanding of self as claiming absolute right to one’s body. That is, the person is the owner of their body. No one else has any justification for even talking about the impact of the action on them, and certainly not their family or society. This attitude is summarised as the self-worshipper saying in effect: “I am a piece of property that I own. Because I possess property rights to myself, I can dispose of my property as I see fit. My life is a project I am creating.”
Other trends, for example the move to unfettered use of abortion; an anxiety epidemic among teenagers; and a dramatic rise in the number of girls presenting with early onset gender dysphoria, have also been linked to an expectation that the only resources available to a person are to be found within the self, with no expectation of, nor desire for, help from a supportive family or community, and no responsibility in return, to society as a whole.
Christian apologist Keller has recognised the significance of this shift in western culture. His 2009 book “Counterfeit Gods”, demonstrating the emptiness of a pursuit of money, sex and power was written in response to topics raised by his New York congregation in their regular Sunday Q&A’s, reinforced by conversations at Oxford University. In it he made no reference to the overarching pursuit of individualism, though we would now understand that contributes to the consumerism which he was warning against. But in 2016 he published a follow-up book, “Making Sense of God”, moving his apologetic from a philosophical point of view to a sociological one, and focusing on the emerging trap of expressive individualism. He says:
In all former cultures, people developed a self by moving toward others, seeking their attachment. We found ourselves, as it were, in the faces of others. But modern secularism teaches that we can develop ourselves only by looking inward, by detaching and leaving home, religious communities, and all other requirements so that we can make our own choices and determine who we are for ourselves.
So what response can we make to this significant societal shift and circumstance? My purpose here today is to suggest that the contemplative life can make a meaningful contribution to combating the harm arising from this extreme self-focus. And it can be fostered through the healing power of awe.
THE HEALING POWER OF AWE
My husband and I live in a community of eight villas. During the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, which in Perth was relatively short and less restricted than in most cities, it nevertheless became obvious that those of our neighbours who lived alone were finding the isolation particularly hard. So we invited everyone to come to our front lawn, “socially distanced” with drink in hand, to watch the sun set each evening over the ocean at the end of our street. We first initiated this at the time of the autumn equinox, so the sun really did set over the nearby Indian Ocean right at the end of our east-west street. I saw how significant and beneficial these social interactions in the presence of a glorious sunset were. This is what started my exploration of the value of awe, especially awe experienced large in nature, awe shared with others.
The therapeutic value of being in nature has long been acknowledged in many cultures. It is starting to be noticed more generally in western society. When recommended by doctors for health reasons, it is called ‘nature prescribing’ or ‘green prescriptions’ and has strong empirical support. Awe is one step further. It is not just sitting under a tree or exploring the intricate structure of a flower. It is being moved emotionally by it, with even greater benefit. For example, research by Fuller Seminary’s Thrive Center, which has a mandate to investigate positive psychological approaches for young people, demonstrated that experiencing natural wonder, awe, is one of the best resources available for reducing teenage depression. They found that being in awe-inspiring nature can measurably diminish feelings of impatience and aggression and stimulate generosity.
Another example is Californian psychologist Dacher Keltner who researches happiness. He is convinced that happiness comes best from experiencing awe. Not just nature, but spine-tingling awe. With colleagues, he searched through writings of the mystics, of people describing their “peak experiences”, theorists examining emotions in crowds, and stories from many cultures. His team developed a useful definition of awe as “Being in the presence of something vast and mysterious that transcends your current understanding of the world”.
Their research collected 2600 narratives across 26 countries and classified what they call the Eight Wonders of Life. Ranked in order of frequency mentioned by the respondents, nature is third in the list, music number four. (Spiritual and Religious Experience is at six! ) Of particular interest at number two is what they call “collective effervescence”, encompassing crowd interactions such as a mass experience at a festival, a sports event, or a choir.
A recent ABC TV Compass program hosted by Julia Baird presented Keltner’s work on cultivating wonder in everyday life. She also highlighted her own delight at natural ocean phosphorescence, first described in her book of that name, in which she tells of its contribution to her recovery from personal trauma. Be an “awe hunter” daily, she now urges, suggesting there are many surprises of awe to be found by those who go looking for them in the natural world, including in the very small things. The ABC TV Catalyst program last month also endorsed the life-enhancing power of awe, highlighting research on positive emotions arising from interactions between humans and nature.
Let me give that Keltner definition of awe again: “Being in the presence of something vast and mysterious that transcends your current understanding of the world”. Obviously, there will be great variation in what stimulates awe for each of us. For me, it is best found in the big generous experiences of nature – a sunrise or a sunset, or the energy and sound of pounding waves on a rocky cliff in a storm. In the summer, my husband and I snorkel in the nearby ocean, watching the fish and delighting in identifying them and anticipating what we will see over the season. Though it is a daily activity, unexpected highlights such as a swirl of pilchers brought up the coast on the currents, especially provoke awe and get photographed!
In our younger days, we sought out mountains to climb and vast scenery to experience though awe-inspiring wilderness, especially in north America. Our greatest climb was the 14,000-foot glacier-topped Mt Ranier outside Seattle. My husband grew up within an hour of the Lake District in the UK and its ridges and peaks are well known to him with such awe (and fear) that he has enjoyed taking some of our grandchildren there to experience them. My “peak” awe experience was first sighting Mt Everest as we drove towards its China base camp. I have never had aspirations to climb it, but its very peak is so recognizable and iconic that the experience of actually seeing it moved me to silence and tears.
We can, of course, experience awe in the more accessible, in the small, in the intricate. I remember a day wading along a nearby beach with my granddaughter, hunting for shells. Just as fossickers have done for generations, she picked up the beautiful ones, ready to take them home. Wary of this impetus to possess, I suggested she leave them there for others to enjoy. Fortunately, we cannot sequester the beauty of a sunset or a surging tide, though people have been known to cage birds to admire their plumage and song! In the natural landscape of Western Australia, late winter and spring bring a wonderful display of wildflowers to our botanical hotspot. The great variety, the unique colours and foliage hidden in seemingly ordinary ‘bush’ landscapes are a wonderful surprise to locals and visitors alike.
Whatever generates the awe, studies of its healing power have two strong findings: awe may move us internally, but it is stimulated by something outside of us; and its inspiring power is multiplied when shared. So the challenge for us in a western post-modern society suffering growing loneliness and anxiety, is how to bring opportunities for the healing power of awe to as many people as possible; and what tools can we offer to help them experience creation collectively?
GOD’S CATHEDRAL IS SHARED WITH US
I remember one time. when hiking a section of the Cape-to-Cape trail south of Margaret River, sitting and looking at the magnificent ocean vista, as surfers tried to master the left-hand break. I found myself wondering if the Creator enjoyed the ocean and the surf before we humans ever discovered it. Yes, must be the answer. Genesis records that the seventh day of creation, the day of completion, became the rest of satisfaction. God enjoying all that he created.
Perhaps we can think of the created world as God’s cathedral—not a high-vaulted building with which we humans seek to construct awesome grandeur, but something far grander, giving its Creator great delight. Just as what we make gives us satisfaction, no matter how small and insignificant our efforts, the vast wonders of nature—sunsets, storms, mountains, forest, ocean—that provoke awe in us, surely God enjoys too.
And, it seems, he wants the extra pleasure of sharing them. There is a classic philosophical conundrum: When a tree falls in a forest, but no one is there to hear it, does it actually make a sound? Philosophers as well as scientists argue about this, the latter stating that there must be an eardrum nearby, or else the sound waves produced by the tree falling cannot be called sound. (Apparently, there is some connection between this and quantum physics which I do not understand.) But in a parallel way we can ask: Is the natural world only awe-inspiring when someone is observing it, being awed? No doubt it can be a solitary activity, but sharing awe is important to its healing power. We are relationship people, made in the image of the relationship God who seeks to love and be loved by the people he has created. Perhaps this includes sharing enjoyment of beauty. C. S. Lewis, ruminating on being moved by the beauty of colours and tastes that probably even angels could not experience, wrote: “I fancy the ‘beauties of nature’ are a secret God has shared with us alone. That may be one of the reasons why we were made.”
We might add to Genesis 1: “In the beginning God created, to share with us, the heavens and the earth.”
THE CONTEMPLATIVES’ DILEMMA
But returning to how this impacts the contemplative life, we are faced with a dilemma. In practicing contemplation, our habit has been to look primarily within ourselves to hear God speak, confident in God’s love and acceptance, and guided by the presence of the Holy Spirit. Often, we pursue solitude in which to do this. However, in our current climate, this practice may for some, reinforce the extreme self-focus infecting contemporary society. As Christians, we understand the importance of the individual. We stand before God as individuals receiving the gift of grace. But is how we do it in danger of reinforcing the individualism and the lack of connection to community that expressive individualism promotes? In contemplation it can appear that all the resources we seek to live well, to flourish, are available within. No outside reference needed! No giving or receiving in community! Mindfulness practised solo. How different from the biblical concept of shalom, flourishing in community.
Of course, we know that the contemplative life has in most eras been practised in community. And we appreciate the wisdom of the cloud of witnesses who have walked this journey before us. The monasteries, the desert communities, are examples of the contemplative practised within communal rhythms and rules of life. However, a post-modern ethos so strongly based on the self, may cause the contemplative life to reinforce individualism, while ignoring the other centeredness that is also part of being human.
We know too, that our personal practice of contemplation does not consist only in “navel gazing”, to use a derogatory term. Often the beauty of a flower, a tree, a sunset, focuses our minds and hearts on life in its fulness, and on the Creator. How many of us have precious memories of hours spent at Nathanael’s Rest enjoying the trees, the paddock, the labyrinth. And nature figures richly in the imagery of meditation booklets Dayspring has published. But I want to suggest that in Australia today we need a determination, a turning point, to put even greater emphasis on awe-inspiring experiences outside of ourselves, and on sharing the contemplative life. I have a few suggestions of how to go about this shift in focus, but I am not the expert here and my challenge to you today is to incorporate these additional elements in your contemplative practice and teach them to others. But first a word of caution about not worshipping nature itself.
NOT WORSHIPPING NATURE
The majesty of sky and sea, of sun, moon, and stars, are so far beyond anything we humans can construct with all our technology, it is no wonder that people have long worshipped them. On a visit to Machu Picchu in Peru a few years ago we explored the ancient Inca site. Its orientation was chosen so the royal priests could lead worship of the rising sun in the east at dawn, so on the second day, our tour group got up early to experience the first rays of light appearing through what were once the temple windows. It was warming and majestic. The guide formed our group into a circle and led a prayer of thanks to the sun and mother earth, just as the long-gone Inca priests had done each morning. But my thoughts turned to the Creator of the universe. I was filled with awe at this sunrise display of God’s handiwork and gave thanks to Yahweh God as revealed in the Christian Scriptures.
This is the emphasis we find when we turn to the Bible. There are many references to the wonder of the created world, including how it brings perspective to us humans who are inclined to laud our own mastery of it. Psalm 8 begins, for example:
LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
in the heavens.
Or the beginning of Psalm 19:
The heavens declare the glory of God:
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Always, Yahweh God is lauded as Creator, the one to be worshipped; and the “high places” of any lessor god or baal are to be shunned. Significantly, worship of the one true God is linked with the Creator’s care for the created. Psalm 8 goes on to wonder at God’s care:
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?. .
We see this also in Psalm 136 with its refrain “His steadfast (hesed) love endures forever” interspersing the recitation of the Creator’s work:
Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
His love endures forever . . .
to him who alone does great wonders,
His love endures forever . . .
who by his understanding made the heavens,
His love endures forever . . .
who spread out the earth upon the waters,
His love endures forever . . .
who made the great lights –
His love endures forever . . .
the sun to govern the day,
His love endures forever . . .
the moon and stars to govern the night . . .
His love endures forever.
Creative power and intimacy combined. One writer has subtitled his book on prayer: “Experiencing awe and intimacy with God.” I love that prayer offers this wonderful combination of awe and intimacy.
Awe is also a corrective to the human desire to possess, to be a consumer of nature and experiences of nature. Beauty, wonder, are words associated with awe, but any definition also needs to take into account awe’s prompting of the emotion of fear as well. The power of a thunderstorm, the strength of ocean waves roaring onto rocks, the vastness of the sky in sunsets and sunrises all offer something big and beyond us. We cannot control them nor domesticate them, yet they are also available for us to share. In a recent discussion of awe, one young man described to me how, when his wife was facing a terminal diagnosis, she found the night sky full of stars gave her a sense of perspective about her life. It was vast; she was small. But she was loved.
The Apostle John begins his gospel attributing the act of creation to the one who as the Son shows us what Father love is. Echoing the creative act described in Genesis 1, John writes: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” So we understand that in creation, the Word spoke the world and its people into being. And now, John will say, the Word is the one who will show us the power of love. Creation awe and intimacy together in Jesus.
CONTEMPLATION AND BRINGING AWE’S HEALING POWER
I want to suggest in closing three ways I believe we who value the contemplative life can serve people and a society in the grip of a demanding self. We know that ultimate healing comes from God, Creator, and loving Father, and we long to see others come to know that God and the love offered in Jesus. But we also acknowledge that the God-image within every human being means that all can benefit from the healing power of awe, even when its Creator is not acknowledged. So this is a potential benefit for all.
Three ways to expand experiences of awe and share it:
1. Increase our use of the Scriptures that speak of God’s creation
I have found that many of the students in the spiritual formation groups I lead have never been encouraged previously to meditate on the creation psalms or used tools such as meditation from creation. By harnessing the growing societal awareness of the value of nature, and especially of awe, for people’s wellbeing, we can encourage and lead in this. Group settings and subsequent sharing of these experiences will be important.
2. Develop more tools to practise presence in creation
Presence, appreciating it, practicing it, has been one of my greatest learnings in the contemplative life. I am finding my young students often do not know how to be still, let alone how to experience solitude. They find even 15 minutes difficult, especially when it means turning off Spotify and their screens which are the background of their life. Demonstrating through practical experience what they are missing is a start. Tools to widen and practise presence in creation would greatly help.
For example, the labyrinth. It can be indoors or outdoors, but how much better in a natural environment. Many times I found it a wonderful tool to meet with God along the way in, or out, and at its centre. Once, at Dianella when I was pondering the wisdom of going to Pakistan, the outward movement of exiting spoke to me of being open to a future safe with God. But recently it has occurred to me that I have not been fully appreciating the natural setting of labyrinths such as the big, now developed one at Nathanael’s Rest. In fact, twice in the last few years I have led a group at Mundaring when it rained all day. We stayed indoors. How much better it would have been to don raincoats and fully experience and ponder the wonder of refreshing rain.
Then there is awe at the small and intricate. There are students whom I have tasked with contemplating God as the Creator in a nature walk or a retreat who have never experienced concentrated focusing for a length of time on a gumnut or a tree or an intricate flower, so word oriented have they been. My preference for awe in the big and wide – the sunset, storm, ocean - would make me prefer to lead them on a trek up Bluff Knoll or along the Bibbulmun Track, but sometimes learning a new skill of contemplation in the accessible is just as valuable as peak experiences.
3. Incorporate opportunities for collective effervescence through shared experiences
Keltner’s term for the awe-building value of shared experience is collective effervescence. Something big is happening and we sense the wonder of being part of it and sharing the feeling. The pub choir is the usual classic example of this. We need this communal source of awe; and we need to make it happen for others. We all are enriched by it. Can we find ways to more fully share the contemplative life with others? At a retreat, even a silent one? That is the challenge I give you today.
Brian and Patricia Stitt are no longer in a place to lead us in this. We honour the legacy they have given us, modelling and teaching the contemplative life, quietly, internally as well as in the world of nature and society. We value too their contribution to our personal lives through friendship and example. I remember in particular, that when in later years they travelled to the ocean near us, they revelled in its beauty and power. And stopped by our house for a cuppa and conversation. But today we journey on, richer in our experience of God as Creator as well as Father, because of them.
And we pray:
Be Lord Jesus
a bright flame before us
a guiding star above us
a smooth path below us
a kindly shepherd behind us
today and forever.
Jennifer Turner 1/10/2023
 Richard Foster. Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith. San HarperCollins, 1998.
 Roger Hurding Pathways to Wholeness: Pastoral care in a Postmodern Age. Republished as Five Pathways to Wholeness: Explorations in Pastoral Care and Counselling. London, U.K.: SPCK, 2013.
 Richard Foster. Money, Sex and Power. London, U.K.: Hodder and Stoughton, 1985.
 Timothy Keller. Counterfeit Gods: When the Empty Promises of Love, Money and Power Let You Down. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2009.
 Archibald D. Hart. Me, Myself, & I: How far Should we go in our Search for Self-fulfillment? Guildford, U.K.: Highland, 1992.
 Robert Bellah et al., Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life. Berkeley, CA: U. California Press, 2008,333-334
 Bellah, 2008, 286.
 David Foster Wallace, novelist. Commencement address at Kenyon College May 21, 2005, reproduced in Dave Eggers, The Best Non-required Reading, New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006, 355-264.
 Ending Loneliness Together, Australian State of the Nation Report into Social Connection, www.endinglonellinesstogether.com.au, 2023.
 David Brooks, The Atlantic Quarterly, June 2023 quoted by Paul Kelly, The Australian, Comment column, 2/8/23, 11.
 Keller, 2009.
 Collin Hansen, Timothy Keller: His Spiritual and Intellectual Formation, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2023, Chapter 17.
 Timothy Keller, Making Sense of God, London: Hodder &Stoughton, 2016, Loc 1953.
 Susan Mangan “Finding Awe in Uncertain Times.” The Thrive Center, Fuller Seminary, 2020. https://www.thethrivecenter.org/finding-awe-in-uncertain-times
 Dacher Keltner. Awe: The Transformative Power of Everyday Wonder. Penguin, U.K.: 2023. @024 paperback to be released as Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder & How It Can Transform Your Life. Random, 6-7.
 Keltner, 2023, Chapter One.
 Julia Baird. Phosphorescence: A Memoir of Finding Joy When the World goes Dark. Random House: 2022. Also released as an audio book Phosphorescence: On Awe, Wonder & Things that Sustain You When the World Goes Dark.
 C. S. Lewis: Readings for Mediation and Reflection (New York City: HarperOne, 996), 93.