Reclaiming Wonder and Awe
Putting the Cultus back in Culture
The Loss of Wonder and Awe
Wonder and awe at the glory of the natural order is lost. In no small measure, this has caused our culture to cave in on itself in black holes of immeasurable self-aggrandizement. Function, utility, and efficiency have become the unholy trinity that beat the drums of progress as we march towards cultural suicide. In our imperfect world, perfect utopia is unattainable for many reasons, two of which include an utter lack of consensus and pride. What is the perfect world? What conditions have to exist for true human flourishing?
Philosophers, theologians, political thinkers, and historians have debated this concept of the perfect world from time immemorial. In our fractured state, true consensus does not seem likely or possible in the court of public opinion. Without a concerted popular effort towards aiming at the same goal, the likelihood of achieving it is low. As to pride, it is not controversial to make the claim that most people today are either unabashedly or unwittingly self-focused.
True Societal Progress Does Not Come From Within
The foundational underpinnings of true progress and human flourishing comes from without, not within. The greatest minds of science, historically, were motivated by wonder and awe at the majesty of the created order. Relatively infrequently are people truly amazed by something. What does this blasé attitude do to a society? What becomes of culture?
Putting the “Cult” Back in Culture
Culture is connected intimately to worship. The root word is “cultus,” from which arises the English word “cult.” Cultus comes from the Latin verb colare which means “to till.” This is why we have the word agriculture (agri - field, cultus - till). In the Middle Ages, cultus came to mean adoration or veneration specifically. The prime act of worship is sacrifice. It is getting outside of oneself in order to show that worth is found outside of the self. Worship could thus be seen as “giving worth.”
So, what happens when we lose a sense of wonder and awe? It’s simple: we start to worship inwardly; we start to worship ourself. Instead of the worship of one God, the replacement has been the worship of over seven billion “gods.” When every person is master of their own domain, then communal ties, even familial ties, begin to crumble.
What would happen if we cultivate a sense of wonder and awe in our own life? I would imagine that we would start to be more appreciate and less cynical. We would be less pessimistic and more pragmatic, if not actually optimistic. We would have a longer viewpoint and shorter fuse. We would see beauty all around us instead of fixating on the ugly. We will understand that we are not the center of the universe but will not be lost to existentialist dread.
Avoiding Existential Dread
This last thought is one of the most pressing. Given the loss of wonder and awe, our world has descended into meaningless existentialism. Shouting into the void in a primal scream is the only prescription for our nihilistic culture. Of course, if we recapture the sense of wonder and awe, then we realize that nihilism is itself nothing. We realize that there is something greater and that we are an important part of the whole.
Fear of the Lord is the Beginning of True Wisdom
Wonder and awe are not fixtures of a bygone era. They are the beginning of true wisdom. In fact, we could call them by their traditional name: “fear of the Lord.” This fear is a filial one, as a son to a father. When we begin to let God be God and understand that we are not, then we begin to see things differently. We take ourselves less seriously and take the Creator more seriously. We find ourselves, not “out there” or within, but rather where we place worth itself.
Let us put the cultus back in culture, tilling and cultivating a sense of wonder, awe, and amazement. There is much to be grateful for in this world. It will not take long to recognize the Giver of the good gifts who gratuitously and generously generated all things and respond in gratitude.