Yesterday I saw a small group of children in Chapel here in St Georges Windsor. It was amazing to see their reaction and it took me back to thenk about space, wonder and awe.
Donald Allchin eloquently evokes how spirituality might relate to a cathedral:
To speak of spirituality is to speak of that meeting of eternity with time, of heaven with earth; it is to recover a sense of the holiness of matter, the sacredness of this world of space and time when it is known as the place of God’s epiphany….. There is a geography of holy places, the places where the saints have dwelt… places whose beauty has been revealed by lives which have been open to God in such a way as to show that this world is not a system closed upon itself.
What cathedrals can do – and did for those children – is to enable a sense of awe, and a sense of awe is very close to worship. Albert Einstein wrote: ‘Whoever is devoid of wonder, whoever remains unmoved, whoever cannot contemplate or know the deep shudder of the soul in enchantment, might just as well be dead for he has closed his eyes upon life.’
Today, however, we live in a culture characterized by what Alistair McFadyen terms ‘pragmatic atheism’ in which many are bemused by any talk of sin – except, perhaps, in the context of eating chocolate. This is because ‘we live in a culture which is basically secular, which affirms the world’s integrity and independence from any external, non-worldly reality so that it may be understood in its own terms, without immediate or explicit reference to God’.The commentator Brian Walden recently suggested that ‘we ought to talk to each other more about the central mystery of life’ and cathedrals can provide what has been referred to as ‘open-minded space’ to help people reflect on that mystery. In doing so they can restore a ‘geography of holy places’, to use Allchin’s phraseology, to indicate that this world is not a system closed upon itself. They do this by speaking to people on many levels – not just the rational.
One thought on “Awe?”
I really enjoy your articles which are always very thought provoking.
Jim Mitchell, Artistic Director, Wantage Betjeman Festival (Sept 10-16th 2011).