Friday, August 08, 2008

the wind in the willows and awe

Really late on posting this one.

We launched a new series called Awe. We want to look at the obvious things about God—authority, creativity, complexity, mystery, etcetera—and how they provoke a sense of reverential fear and worship. I also mentioned how children’s books are great reading for adults, especially the older classics that weren’t dumbed down, preachy, or coolly relevant for the consumer-conscious Frankenstein-kids we’ve created. Don’t get me started.

In his beautiful The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame gives one of the most striking spiritual expressions of awe. It is the feeling of “otherness”, of the intersection of fear and beauty. It is so overwhelmingly attractive and yet otherworldly that they can’t do anything…but worship. They are awestruck and, like Daniel in the Old Testament, all strength leaves their bodies and turns their “muscles to water.”

Grahame tells the story of Mole and Rat launching off in a boat in the middle of night to look for Otter’s lost child, Portly. Rat hears the faint pipe music of Pan, who is the god and good shepherd of the animals. For a while, Mole cannot hear the music…only the sound of the wind through the reeds. They find Portly sleeping blissfully in Pan’s care. Grahame writes:

“Then suddenly the Mole felt a great Awe fall upon him, an awe that turned his muscles to water, bowed his head, and rooted his feet to the ground. It was no panic terror -- indeed he felt wonderfully at peace and happy -- but it was an awe that smote and held him and, without seeing, he knew it could only mean that some august Presence was very, very near. With difficulty he turned to look for his friend and saw him at his side cowed, stricken, and trembling violently. And still there was utter silence in the populous bird-haunted branches around them; and still the light grew and grew.

Perhaps he would never have dared to raise his eyes, but that, though the piping was now hushed, the call and the summons seemed still dominant and imperious. He might not refuse, were Death himself waiting to strike him instantly, once he had looked with mortal eye on things rightly kept hidden. Trembling he obeyed, and raised his humble head; and then, in that utter clearness of the imminent dawn, while Nature, flushed with fulness of incredible colour, seemed to hold her breath for the event, he looked in the very eyes of the Friend and Helper. . .”

“. . . All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.

‘Rat!' he found breath to whisper, shaking. ‘Are you afraid?'

‘Afraid?' murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love. ‘Afraid! Of Him? O, never, never! And yet -- and yet -- O, Mole, I am afraid!'

Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.

Sudden and magnificent, the sun's broad golden disc showed itself over the horizon facing them; and the first rays, shooting across the level water-meadows, took the animals full in the eyes and dazzled them. When they were able to look once more, the Vision had vanished, and the air was full of the carol of birds that hailed the dawn.”

That’s a great picture of awe. In this world, ever so often, the wind of the Spirit carries the faint music from another Place and we briefly encounter the Numinous. It leaves us unsatisfied with this world; there must be more. It draws us and yet frightens us. It is the mysterium tremendum et fascinans. We sense The Holy.

I wonder how many of us sophisticated, theology-screwed-on-straight believers have really experienced the awe of God?


  1. Oh, my goodness, Dave. Each time I think one of your blog entries has moved me most, you do it all over again. What an AMAZING vision of AWE...
    Thank you for sharing it and reminding me how casual I have become with the God Almighty who created the Heavens and the off handed I often am in my worship of Him...
    and for reminding me of a most beloved childhood book!
    ---Kathy Sprinkle

  2. If I did not know any better, I think Dave is reliving his childhood by reading all these children's stories? Hmmmmmmm

    Hey can I join you? lol

  3. Sweet stuff Dave, loved Wind in the Willows when I was 'wee'!
    Have you ever seen the BBC version they did of it a few years back? Superb!
    Agree about the need for AWE too ... maybe if we were more prepared to be filled with AWE then we'd be more willing to risk and cause our community to AWE too?

  4. Do I have just cause to file a complaint against my church, when someone in the VCC/HR department[G. S.], interviews me for a job that I am well qualified for, tells me; “we have a problem hiring you because you are NOT MARRIED to your girlfriend and living under the same roof”, & “because it is standard practice of the our church to hire only individuals that are married to their loved one and not co-habiting with one another…based on the Holy Bible and the honor of marriage” [Greg S. & Dennis B. of Vineyard Community Church of Cincinnati {Sept/02/2008}]. My girlfriend and I honor the Bible and it’s laws for marriage by sleeping separately in two different rooms, and abs cent from sex until our future plans of marriage. And I did indeed inform both parties in my strong Christian standards in which I exercise completely/daily, (based on the laws of the Old Testament). We are under the same roof, but living as roommates do, just like a coeds in a Coed College Dorm.
    Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:
    If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!
    Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?
    Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
    The Bible
    Ecclesiastes 4

    This goes deeper than that…we have an associate (division) pastor for approx. 3-4 years, from England within our church, “Keith”, which this individual has two drug convictions of marijuana(1982), whom is allowed on staff, and this church does background checks, but will allow such individual to be a part of our church, in a leadership position. I have nothing against any person(s) whom choose to better his/her way of life. He was given a chance to prove himself…all I ask for is that same-equal chance to prove myself as well. I have a felony conviction(Jan./2000), myself, and the church will not allow me in any volunteer programs and/or employment within the church. In the scope of these things, the church is exercising a “double standard”. I have applied for several volunteer programs since I started attending VCC in Oct./2007, to say the least for employment within as well.
    When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.
    Richard Nixon