Really old graffiti.

My good friend texted this phrase this morning: “Life has been relentless this month.” Relentless. Do you feel that way? In the past two weeks, our family has had a health scare, a back injury, and two Covid exposures with all the resulting contingency plans. Nothing catastrophic, but I resonated with the word “relentless” when she wrote it this morning.

How long has it been since you felt a sense of awe, that transported you beyond the relentlessness of your daily life?

Last weekend, our family escaped to Hocking Hills State Park for the kids’ fall break from school. This state park in the middle of the country has uncommon, beautiful hikes to caves, waterfalls and cliffs.  It seems like an unusual phenomenon to find in Ohio. Over time, flowing water has eroded a soft layer of sandstone, resulting in some magnificent rock formations and natural features like caves and waterfalls. 

What we weren’t expecting to find in these exhilarating caves was centuries-old graffiti! The very first trail we took was to the Rock House, a tunnel-like cave about 150 feet up a sandstone cliff.  After marveling over the sensational beauty of the cave, we discovered the old carvings, and spent an hour just searching out the earliest dates and finding old-fashioned names like “Nettie” and “Willis” carved into the walls so neatly 160 years ago.

It captivated us.  How cool to see evidence of human life from long before our time.  The oldest carving we found was 1851. That was a decade before the civil war! What must life have been like for those people who hiked up into this cave so long ago? Someone named Lucy Moore was standing in this very spot on June 24, 1888!

As I read the names and dates, I started to feel small, but in the very best way. I was overcome with such a feeling of WONDER.

Moments of awe and wonder give us the feeling of being small or insignificant, what researchers call “The Small Self.” While smallness and insignificance may sound undesirable, it actually comes with a euphoric feeling of oneness and resonance with others. People experiencing awe and wonder often say they have a perception of a higher power, and that day-to-day concerns recede from their attention. (Ingrid Fetel Lee describes this in her book, Joyful).

This one small change in perspective – away from my day-to-day concerns that felt so big – lightened my spirit.

In an interview I listened to today, author Shauna Niequist mentioned that grief is somatic, meaning that we carry it in our bodies, whether we realize it or not. She was talking about taking walks near bodies of water, which helps her deal with feelings of grief and overwhelm. Of course we are all dealing with some form of grief as a consequence of this ongoing pandemic. What kinds of things to do you do physically to contend with grief or fatigue or feelings of overwhelm?

There is a John Muir quote that I love: “Keep close to nature’s heart…and break clear away once in awhile and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” 

By the grace of God, life “relented” for us during Fall Break. We breathed fresh air, we saw things that made us say “Wow!” and “Look at that!” and played cards and roasted hotdogs.

But we can’t always take the time to climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods when our spirit needs refreshing. What other types of activities give you this feeling of awe and wonder?

I can think of a few things that achieve this tiny lift of wonder and awe in my regular life.

  • Smiling at a baby or toddler and getting a big smile back.
  • Going back to church in person and singing together in worship.
  • Watching our new pet learn how to do something new.
  • Beholding great art, like hearing a new album for the first time.
  • Opening the window of my minivan when the sun peeks out and letting it shine on my face for a minute.

Each of these things gives a glimpse of the divine in the middle of an ordinary day. God is big and we are small, in the very best way.

Sometimes, I look at the stars
And think about how small we are
Sweating it out in the pressure machine
Good ’til the last drop.

The Killers. Lyrics to “Pressure Machine.” Pressure Machine, Island Records, 2021

“He makes springs pour water into the ravines;
    it flows between the mountains.
He waters the mountains from his upper chambers;
    the land is satisfied by the fruit of his work.
He makes grass grow for the cattle,
    and plants for people to cultivate—
    bringing forth food from the earth:
wine that gladdens human hearts,
    oil to make their faces shine,
    and bread that sustains their hearts.

Psalm 104:10, 13-15

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