All About Awe
Anna Mikulak (2015)
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What is the Science?

Awe-inspiring encounters are often a source of life-changing experiences. Recent research has begun to look into why these encounters can be so impactful. Awe-inspiring experiences can give people a sense of vastness and often induce a need to accommodate the experience in the way they think about their world. This is why language such as “mind-blowing” and “earth-shattering” are often appropriate descriptions. Additionally, experiments have connected awe with deeper levels of thinking, increased patience and moment-to-moment awareness, and a heightened sense of the transcendent and connectedness with the universe. Much research remains to be done to pursue these connections further as well as what experiences might more effectively inspire awe. Nonetheless, the evidence is stacking up. Awe is a strong emotion that can have many positive benefits in those who experience it.

“No wonder, then, that we often describe these stimuli as ‘mind-blowing’ or ‘earth-shattering.’ They simply don’t conform to our existing way of thinking about the universe.” – Anna Mikulak

What is the Theology?

Pastors can facilitate awe-inspiring experiences that encourage awareness of the transcendent and of the universal connection between all humanity. They can connect these experiences to scriptures that describe awesome acts of God, such as the creation of the world or the burning of a wet altar, or life-changing encounters with God, such as Moses and the burning bush or Isaiah’s vision in the throne room. These life-altering experiences can lead us toward serving others as we are overcome by God’s incredible love, such as happened to Paul on the road to Damascus.

What to Consider

  • Has there ever been a time when you have been overcome with awe? What was the reason? Has this left an impact on your life?
  • What role have awe-inspiring experiences played in your experiences of God?
  • What causes you to experience awe? Experiences? Nature? Others? Spiritual encounters? Something else?

How to go Deeper

  • Plan an outdoor event at an awe-inspiring location. Some examples are a youth camping trip, family picnic, or a sunrise service. Invite participants to reflect upon the Creator God whom we are invited to worship.
  • After preaching a sermon about the cosmos, hold a star-gazing night. Invite an experienced astronomer to explain what participants are seeing. End with a time of worship music to reflect on the Creator who spoke the universe into being.
  • After a series on the awe-inspiring acts of God, invite the congregation to serve the community as they look beyond themselves and embrace their connection to others.

Relevant Scripture

All references in parenthesis refer to Lectionary readings. For more information on what the Lectionary is, please click here. For additional Lectionary resources click here.

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By | 2017-07-31T04:01:15+00:00 January 24th, 2017|Awe, Research|3 Comments

About the Author:

Zach is currently a PhD student at Fuller Theological Seminary researching the role of leaders in congregational change. His calling in life is to train and equip pastors to faithfully lead local congregations. When not studying, he'll most likely be watching Sporting Kansas City score goals or hiking with his wife and two kids.

3 Comments

  1. Reed Metcalf February 7, 2017 at 1:50 am

    Fascinating research. As I write, I am trying to process what the most applicable theological implications of these findings will be, so forgive me if I seem to ramble. I personally have never been a fan of leveraging scientific research to make the apologetic argument, “religious people are more happy, so you should be religious.” This seems to be the low-hanging fruit of Mikulak’s summary, but I wonder if this research could be utilized in a different way: that awe should be a regular part of discipleship. If awe indeed leads one into a greater sense of connectedness with the wider universe, greater compassion towards other humans, and a sense of smallness before the Power behind creation, I would argue that awe should be sought after to help form us into people who tend and keep creation, love our neighbors, and stand with proper deference and humility before the Triune God who created all that is.

  2. matt@ncstudycenter.org May 18, 2017 at 11:40 pm

    I like your take Reed; the inverse of the way this is often invoked apologetically: that awe should be a part of discipleship

  3. AustinF May 22, 2017 at 5:46 pm

    Paul Tripp talks a lot about awe. Focusing our awe on God is basically this, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

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