• Richard Southworth

An Experience of Awe and Wonder

Photo by Winnie Southworth



Have I had an experience of awe and wonder? Describe that experience in detail. What was my reaction? What questions arose in me as a result of that experience? What was my response?

It was Sunday morning and I didn’t go to church. The reasons are legion, but that will have to wait for another day. After my wife and son left to go I took a long slow walk around our neighborhood. As I walked I practiced attention.

I paid attention to what was going on in my body. I became aware of my feet falling on the pavement, and of my breathing. I began to count my breathing and to think of the sacred phrase I use in my time apart. Breathe in — “Lord”. Breathe out — “God”. My breathing became synchronized with the steps I was taking. I began to walk up an incline, and became aware of the subtle difference in the effort it took to take each step. I felt peaceful, much like I do when sitting in meditation in my time apart. When my mind would wander I would come back to my breathing and my sacred phrase.


Then I noticed the trees. I noticed that some of them towered over the houses in a way that was truly majestic. There were all kinds of different species, both evergreens and other leafed trees. Some looked healthy and some not so much. Some were dead or dying. I noticed the branches all interwoven with each other, and leaves that were all different shades of green. There was a slight breeze, and the tree limbs were swaying back and forth, especially in the upper branches. Sometimes my attention would return to my steps and my breath and my sacred phrase.


Then my attention spontaneously switched to the sounds. I could hear the slight breeze passing by my ears. My attention moved quietly between the sounds of locusts, crickets, and birds. Then I became aware of the sounds of sirens in the distance, and I wondered what the emergency was. Was it a fire, an accident, and illness, some kind of crime? For a moment I wondered about the people involved. That concern became a kind of silent prayer without words.

Sometimes my attention switched to the houses and to the cars that came by occasionally. I wondered about the people in those houses and cars. I saw a young woman check her mailbox and walk toward the house. What were these people thinking? What were they feeling? What was their life like? And again that silent interest became a kind of prayer without words. Sometimes my attention would return to my steps and my breath and my sacred phrase.


But then sometimes all of the images and all of the sounds would fade into the background and I became aware of just the silence behind the sounds and images. Even the awareness of my steps and my breathing and my sacred phrase faded away. There was no need for even that practice. There were no thoughts, no emotions, and no impulses. There was no need for any kind of prayer. There was just the quiet and a deep sense of awe. There was just the sacred presence of that Mysterious Other I call God, in the quiet, and in the images, and in the sounds. In the breathing, in the sacred words, and in the steps. All that could be said here, all that needed to be said here was amen!



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