This entry continues my reactions to the remarkable insights in a *new book about awe. Today: Congregational worship as awe experiences.
Reading the descriptions of social scientist and author Dacher Keltner regarding awe-filled experiences, I’ve realized that worship likely involves awe. When we worship God together with other believers, that experience can invoke, invite and inspire awe in the deepest parts of our being.
To review Keltner’s basic thesis, awe displaces our “default self,” the nagging neurotic inside of us that incorrectly summarizes us as distinct, independent, in control and always seeking control over others. During awe experiences, we recognize how our now-smaller identities are part of something larger than ourselves. We discover the vast mysteries that comprise much of life, and our commonalties with others. Awe alleviates the isolated loneliness of our sometimes-selfish human nature, leading us toward humility, love, empathy and service. In that state of mind, we are less prone towards anxiety, anger or despair. When awe infuses our spirits, there’s less soul-space—attitudinal, cognitive, spiritual—for personal attributes that can take us away from the greater good that constitutes God’s will.
As we worship, we place ourselves in God’s hands, join ourselves to the presence of like-minded others and engage in experiences—prayer, singing, silence—that draw us into the vastness of God’s own self. We meet God’s presence in all of time and space.
Awe-enabling worship embeds itself into our souls as more than entertainment. Instead, these transcendent moments take us toward eternal truths that have for eons guided God’s people towards spiritually sturdy realities that will outlive us. In worship, our personal needs and capabilities are united with those of the people around us. Our church’s sacred spaces and rituals help make possible sacred identities and actions. In Holy-Spirited imaginations, we realize and confirm our capabilities to transcend self-delusion.
We can look forward to this Sunday, when once again we will be awed by God!
*Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life. By Dacher Keltner. Copyright © 2023. New York: Penguin Press. ISBN 978-1-9848-7968-4
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