In Awe of Awful Days
Are you having awful days?
I have heard people speak that way about 2020, about the world, about this semester. Awful.
There is truth here, in regard to our struggle with stress, medical issues, quarantine, COVID 19, family schooling, and piling-up course work, structural racism and bias, political division. We are nearing new levels of exhaustion and pain, anxiety out the roof, and burdens that feel unmanageable. I am sure I don’t know the half of the ways that the weight of these days is immense and awful.
Isn’t it interesting that the root word of Awful is Awe. The root of awe is an awareness of the transcendent, the holy, a sense that something else is among us, even a wonder at the world we find ourselves inhabiting.
I am in awe of the resilience of students, faculty, and staff, even in the face of the awful. One staff person confesses, “The only thing getting me up in the morning is my relationship with God.” A faculty member leads a class to talk deeply about race and racism, communicating together their fears and beliefs. A circle of masked students sit quietly outside, in a beautiful breeze among the oaks, meditating with the inhaled gift of breath in meditation. The birds sing. The moon waxes. People still meet for lunch to share stories of growth and pain. We learn. We find ourselves humming as we walk. It is aweful.
The ten most holy days of the Jewish calendar, the Days of Awe, have just passed, with services, solemnity and praise. Beginning with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur, they are days to focus on what is holy, in each person, in the world, and to seek anew an identity that is life giving and rightly focused, and that blesses the world with beauty and justice.
As I listen to stories of pain and stress, I often ask in some form or another, “where is God in this for you?” It might come out as “What brings you joy?”, “What nourishes you in the midst?”, or” Where do you feel support and love?”, “What is holy about your life?” It is not a glib question, and neither are the profound answers that are awe-inspiring--protective friendship, opportunities for education, reflection time for the heart, music, humility at the sheer beauty around us, tears and laughter, however muffled.
What is holy in your world? Where do you, can you, connect with awe, all the pain notwithstanding?
If in awful days we can find awe, then we will survive, thrive and grow. Because there, an unseen presence, brings blessing.
Jan Fuller has been the University Chaplain at Elon since 2011. She is an Episcopal priest and deeply invested in helping students to find their own spiritual paths while interacting with others in differing paths with appreciation and respect.Raised in Beirut Lebanon for the first half of her life, Jan is the daughter of Southern Baptist missionaries to the Arab peoples of the Middle East. Jan’s education includes a Doctor of Ministry from Wesley Theological Seminary,a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School, and a B.A. in English and French from Hollins University. Jan describes herself as a “war-zone survivor,” who retains a sense of humor and love of gentleness. She loves Arab art and food, and all kinds of music. She intends to find the gift in every day and to live her life as a way of giving thanks.