I’m baaaaaack! After eating gelato each and every day (and sometimes twice a day – it was required), I’m back from the land of pizza and wild boar ragù to the land of pizza and Taco Bell. First of all, many thanks to Rev. Karen Puckett Hernandez and to T.J. Putman for filling in while I was gone. I hope you, my readers, took to heart what they had to say.
Now back to Italy. As you can imagine, Italy is an amazing cacophony (my big word for the day) of sights, smells, and sounds. My husband and I hit most of the high points – Rome, Florence, Sienna, and Milan. In the few days since I’ve been back, the one word that has come back to me over and over again is “awe.”
So many times during the trip I was awestruck. Walking into a massive cathedral (how do you choose “the best” between the Vatican or the cathedrals in Milan or Sienna?), looking at incredible sculptures (can you say “David” or “The Pietà”?), to eating incredible meals (ravioli with truffles, veal, and mmmm gelato), to hanging out with friends and enjoying each other’s company – every day had at least one awe-inspiring moment.
But perhaps the most breath-taking was seeing “The Last Supper” in Milan. This was my personal pilgrimage. Housed in a simple Dominican monastery dining hall, I had no idea what to expect. The anticipation of being with the painting created suspense. Only 25 of us could see Da Vinci’s masterpiece at a time. Our group was huddled together and then sent through two humidity-controlled rooms. And then we were there…standing in front of The Painting. The sheer size of The Last Supper was overwhelming. Knowing I was in a room with one of the world’s most famous paintings was, well, overwhelming too. We had 15 minutes to be with this wonder. Compared to other sites – crammed with hundreds of tourists – merely 25 of us standing in awe with this huge and gorgeous creation was overwhelming (again) and spiritual.
Being filled with awe is a great thing, and science is backing me up. As I was going through all the newspapers (I’m an antique, I know) after we got home I stumbled upon of all things, Parade magazine’s coverage of “Awe.” As psychologist Dacher Keltner says, “Awe is the feeling of being in the presence of something vast or beyond human scale, that transcends our current understanding of things.”
In fact, here’s what the research is showing about the benefits of the awe emotion: Awe binds us together Awe helps us to see things in new ways Awe makes us nicer - and happier Awe alters our bodies.
Without a doubt, I can attest to that. Being in awe is good for you. It’s good for us as a community too. So how can you help create more awe-inspiring moments in your congregation or organization?
1. See your building with new eyes. Set the stage. When was the last time you did a deep clean? Are your bulletin boards looking fresh? How about your trophy cases? Is it time for a new coat of paint somewhere? Is a little weeding in order?
2. Create an environment that transports people. This can be accomplished through music, incense, candles, flowers, lighting, and liturgy.
3. Give people space and time. In a society that is go, go, go, provide the opportunity to just take in the moment, to sit in silence, to appreciate the environment, and to feel at peace.
It’s time for us to relish and promote the awe emotion. Those of us who work in the arts or in the church especially have a great opportunity to give our communities a wonderful and healing gift. And, isn’t that just totally awesome?
Cesie Delve Scheuermann is a consultant in stewardship, development, and grant writing. Over the past decade, while working as a volunteer and part-time consultant, she helped raise over $2.5 million dollars for numerous non-profit organizations. She has declared mango, crema, and riso (rice pudding) gelato as her favorites. She has no desire to taste the avocado-looking pistachio gelato – even if that’s its real color. She was the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference Lay Leader from 2008-2012. Her position with the Conference is funded through a generous grant from the Collins Foundation. She is available to consult with churches. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/inspiringgenerosity.
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